In a spicy twist to the age-old tale of smuggling, onions are proving to be the new gold for daring traders looking to make a quick buck! Despite the Government’s export ban, some unscrupulous traders are using ingenious methods ranging from concealing the bulbs in grape crates to sneaking them as tomatoes, all to clandestinely transport their cargo out of the country.

Also read: Custom officials find onions being exported as tomatoes

With profits soaring and interception rates low, it seems that for these onion smugglers, the stakes are high, but the rewards are even higher! A source, one of the prominent players in onion trade, requesting anonymity, told businessline that onion smuggling is on rise since December when the government announced export ban. Many traders exporting mixed vegetable containers to Dubai and other Gulf countries sneak onions in their shipments.

Large quantities of onions have reached international markets through these channels. The profit from one container is around ₹12 lakh rupees, according to industry players.

Porous borders

Industry insiders report that onion smuggling into Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan is rampant, often using small tempos. The land border is described as highly porous, with little action taken despite multiple letters from the Horticulture Produce Exporters Association (HPEA) to the government. The profitability of smuggling onions is now higher than selling grapes, with estimates suggesting that only five per cent of smuggled onions are being intercepted, highlighting the challenge of controlling this illicit trade.

India, the world’s second-largest producer of onions, is renowned for its pungent variety, available year-round. But in recent times unseasonal rains have caused significant damage to crops in the fields, leading to rotting onions in storage due to increased humidity.

Export ban fueling illicit trade

Sanjay Kumar Agrawal, the Chairman of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs (CBIC), recently announced that the Nagpur Customs Commissionerate had thwarted an attempt to illegally export 82.93 tonnes of onions. He said in an official communication that exporters had falsely declared the goods as tomatoes in an attempt to avoid detection.

Bharat Dighole, President of the Maharashtra State Onion Producer Farmer Organisation, s said smuggling networks quickly mobilise whenever export bans are imposed. He expressed concern that the export ban is actually fueling the illicit trade of onions. Dighole said India’s export ban has led to an increase in onion prices in many countries, further incentivising illicit trade.