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Onion prices fall in Bengal with Bangladesh-bound trucks diverted to local markets

Close to 1,000 trucks carrying around 25,000 tonnes of onion are stuck across the six India-Bangladesh land ports despite a communication from the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to Kolkata Customs, urging them to release the trucks.

The DGFT on September 14, issued a notification, stopping export of onions to foreign countries. Following this, trucks headed for Bangladesh were stranded at the six land ports in Malda, North Dinajpur, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and North 24 Parganas districts.

According to Uzzal Saha, General Secretary, West Bengal Exporters’ Coordination Committee, despite the DGFT issuing a clarification that the order will not be applicable to consignments handed over to Customs for examination and subsequent exports up to public notice/notification date, trucks continue to remain stranded across various land ports.

Prices down

“As much as 25 per cent of the stock has already turned bad and some of it is also getting diverted to the local wholesale market in Kolkata,” Saha told BusinessLine.

“The quality of onion has dropped as they have been stranded for nearly a week at the border and they have started to rot. These onions have made way into the wholesale market bringing down prices by ₹3-5 a kg,” said Bishal Das, an exporter-cum-trader in Bengal.

Exporters point out that nearly 1,500-2,000 tonnes are stuck in three major land ports of the State. A break-up reveals that 70-100 trucks are stuck on the approach road to Petrapole ) — Asia’s largest land port since September 16, while another 150-odd are stranded at Gojadanga. Another 100 trucks with export consignment is stuck at Mahadipur, in the North Bengal region. Another 1,000-1,500 tonnes of onions are stuck in a rail with 37-odd -rakes being parked at the Ranaghat station, in Nadia. The consignment had been sent from Nashik.

“ After banning export trucks got stuck midway and remain stranded. Petrapole, for instance, has 70-100 odd trucks stuck enroute to the ports,” Karthik Chakraborty, Secretary, Petrapole Clearing Agents’ Staff Welfare Association said.

Stuck at Customs

According to sources, clearances at the customs levels are not coming through on export. The DGFT may have issued orders to allow export of stuck consignments; but clearances are awaited.

An exporter points out an instance that happened at Petrapole. When the onion export ban came into effect, land port authorities disallowed six trucks to come in as they were not registered at Petrapole. In a communication to higher-ups, it was confirmed that there was no consignments stranded at the land port. This was based on the registration records at Petrapole. It did not consider the trucks that are on route or are parked on approach roads to land port.

“For non-perishables, consignment registration is done by the clearing agents in advance. For perishables, this is done on-spot, depending on the number of vehicles that actually reach the spot or land port on the given date. So on paper, you will have no export consignment being stuck. But in reality, there could be some,” an exporter explained. He added that the DGFT rule allowing exports applied to these registered consignments only. Six such trucks were cleared at Petrapole the previous week and were able to go to Bangladesh.

Customs version

According to a senior official, no consignment where net export orders (NEOs) were issued before September 14 have been stopped. Even consignments with delayed NEOs or registrations are being cleared. Officials claim that the confusion is with consignments where registrations have been delayed. Or where there is a damage and fresh stocks are awaited by exporters.

“There is no stoppage at our end,” an official explained.

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