#OnionScam in Delhi or a media hit job on AAP?

India Today group broke a story today which promised to be the first instance of “corruption” under Delhi’s AAP led Government. In short, it claimed that the AAP Government has procured onions at a much cheaper price of Rs 18 a kg and sold these to Delhiites at Rs 30 a kg,“.  This was based on some RTI replies accessed by India Today. We could not however find copies of these RTI replies anywhere in their reports. Also, a story  on  this topic on Aaj Tak, now seems to have gone missing or moved to a different place.

On the face of it, this seems to be a scam worth outrage, but as one delves deeper, like the layers of an onion, the layers of this “scam” come off to reveal something else.

First what India Today claims, it inferred from RTI replies:

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the government had purchased 2,511 metric tonnes (25,11,000 kgs) of onions through SFAC at an average price of Rs 18.57 per kg, which also includes cess and other local expenses. “…”The government had also declared that Rs 32.86 per kg as the procurement cost and Rs 7 per kg as the amount of additional surcharge, transportation cost and other local expenses. The Delhi Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal then decided to subsidise the price by Rs 10 per kg and sold onions at Rs 30 per kg”

Now let us look at a document which has surfaced from other sources, which is a letter from Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) which is a central agency, to the State Government of Delhi. This letter shows a different picture. It shows that Delhi Government did buy 2511 MT of onions from SFAC. But the price shown by India Today is wrong. Rs 18.57/kg i.e. around Rs 18062.4 per MT (as per the document) is the cost to SFAC and not to Delhi Government. In fact, SFAC has bought the onions at that rate, added storage, handling, transportation and packaging charges and then sold the 2511 MT at Rs 32868.71 per MT to Delhi Government, which is round Rs 32.86 per Kg. This seems to be the final cost to Delhi Government, after accounting for wastage.

This is consistent with the explanation given by Delhi’s Food and Supplies Minister Asim Ahmed Khan, which was also carried in the original India Today story. This is further buttressed by a Press release from the central Government which says “SFAC has also procured 2511 MT of Onions for the Delhi Govt” and is “supplying Onions at Rs.30.50 per kg. to SAFAL. Although the figures do not match exactly, it is pretty clear that SFAC’s selling price is around Rs 30 -Rs 32 per Kg. So India Today’s claims that Delhi Government bought onions at Rs 18 odd per Kg do not seem to hold ground.

Since most of the details which India Today claims in their report are also present in this SFAC letter, it is possible that this letter is the document obtained under RTI and India Today has just messed up in interpreting it.

India Today’s info-graphic on the #OnionScam

Next India Today claims that

RTI documents also revealed that the government failed to supply adequate quantity of onions despite having a buffer stock of 5,000 metric tonnes.” … “According to RTI replies, the Kejriwal government began the sale of onions on August 10. However, it could only sell 575.32 metric tonnes of onions till September 2. This means that more than 4,400 metric tonnes of onions remained stashed in go-downs while Delhiites were reeling under surging prices of the vegetable.”

Of course we do not have access to these RTI documents which India Today has, but whatever documents are available show a different picture. The SFAC letter clearly shows that Delhi Govt had first asked SFAC to buy 5000 MTs of onions to “create a buffer stock for lean season. SFAC in response bought 2511 MT. Later, Delhi Govt orally instructed SFAC to stop further procurement of balance 2489 MT. Hence SFAC sold this 2511 MT to Delhi Government. This again is corroborated by Press release of central government which says “SFAC has also procured 2511 MT of Onions for the Delhi Govt” So it is unclear how India Today arrived at the conclusion that Delhi Government had “a buffer stock of 5000 MT” and “4400 MT remained stashed in godowns“. The PIB press release does mention that NAFED has procured 5857 MT of onions, but are these only for Delhi? India Today needs to answer this.

In summary:

1. India Today claimed AAP Govt bought onions at Rs 18/kg. Fact is Rs 18/kg is SFAC’s cost and Delhi Govt’s cost is Rs 32.86/kg. Also, as per PIB press release, SFAC is selling onions at Rs 30.5/kg to SAFAL, so Rs 18/kg figure is completely wrong

2. India Today said AAP was sitting on 4400 MT of onions. With whatever documents are available, this seems unlikely. India Today should reveal the RTI documents which support this claim.

co-founder, OpIndia.com

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