Lasalgaon onion market sets aside 74-yr-old belief to recover Covid losses, keeps business open on Amavasya

It is only 8am and Lasalgaon, Asia’s largest onion market, is already abuzz with activity on Thursday. One after the other, trucks and pick-up trolleys bearing the season’s produce make their way in and within a few hours, as many as 871 of them have arrived and taken position according to the numbers allotted to them. Hectic auctioning begins, the traders are competitive, and those with the highest bids land the deal.

This might appear to be just any other day for a wholesale market. Except, it is not. It’s Amavasya — the new moon day — and the first time in 74 years that the market, situated 225km from Mumbai, has been kept open on a day that is considered inauspicious by many.

The reason behind the shift in tradition is simple: After bearing heavy losses due to the Covid-induced lockdowns, the traders and farmers are in no mood to let the threat of a “bad omen” come in way of making a profit.

Said Nandkumar Daga, onion trader and Lasalgaon Merchants’ Association President, “The market was shut for 1.5 months due to Covid and we faced major losses. Due to the lockdown, a huge stock of onion had got accumulated with farmers and they do not have any other option but to sell it, especially with the rainy season upon us. It’s sowing time and farmers need money for that. Traders, too, are facing financial crunch and it is not practical to keep the market closed for one full day just because of some decades-old tradition.”

Ever since the market was established in 1947, the attempt to open it on Amavasya was made only once before. “Around two decades ago, we tried to open the market on new moon day but one of our traders died in an accident. This further cemented the belief that opening the market on Amavasya is a bad omen,” said Daga.

Market insiders were surprised at the overwhelming response on Thursday.

“We were thinking that hardly 200 trucks will come but we were delighted to see so many people coming for the auction,” said a market staffer.

According to the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) officials, around 16,833 quintal onions worth Rs 3.03 crore were sold out. Though the quantity is still less than usual, when around 27,000 quintal onions are sold, it was still a good sign, said traders.

Yogesh Bhausaheb Jagtap, 36, an onion farmer from Shelkewadi Village in Niphad taluka, said he did not care as much about the “bad omen” as he did about recovering the money he had invested in the onions after taking a loan. “Due to the lockdown, our produce was lying in the field for over a month. The market was also closed, causing us huge losses. Onion is perishable and needs to be sold out as soon as possible.”

Shiva Gade, another farmer, said that not being able to sell the produce would have been “a bigger omen” as “my whole family would have suffered.”

Lasalgaon APMC secretary Narendra Vadhavane said, “We have been trying to open the market on Amavasya for the last two-three years but didn’t get a positive response. But this time, owing to the shutdown for over 25 days, there were major losses and the traders’ body agreed to open the market by setting the age-old belief aside.”

The Lasalgaon committee has now decided to keep the market open on all new moon days in the future, even if it is for half a day.

As Daga said, “We must change ourselves with the time.”