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India banned onion exports. Now Asia has eye-watering prices

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From Kathmandu to Colombo, it’s a kitchen nightmare: Onion prices have gone crazy. That’s because India, the world’s biggest seller of the Asian diet staple, has banned exports after extended Monsoon downpours delayed harvests and supplies shrivelled. And dedicated buyers across the region, like Nepalese housewife Seema Pokharel, are flummoxed.

“This is a terrible increase,” said Pokharel, out shopping for vegetables in Kathmandu. “Onion prices have more than doubled in the last month alone.”

Whether it’s Pakistani chicken curry, Bangladeshi biryani or Indian sambar, Asian consumers have developed a serious dependence on Indian onion supplies for go-to dishes. Shorter shipment times than from rival exporters like China or Egypt play a crucial role in preserving the taste of the perishable commodity.

But last Sunday India banned all exports from India after local prices jumped to 4,500 rupees ($63.30) per 100 kg, their highest in nearly six years, due to the delay in summer-sown crop arrivals triggered by longer, heavier rains than usual.

Since the ban, countries such as Bangladesh have turned to the likes of Myanmar, Egypt, Turkey and China to increase supplies in a bid bring prices down, government officials and traders said.

But the hefty volumes lost will be hard to replace.

India exported 2.2 million tonnes of fresh onions in the 2018/19 fiscal year ended March 31, according to data from India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority. That’s more than half of all imports by Asian countries, traders estimate.

‘TAKING ADVANTAGE’

Rising prices of alternative supplies will add to the headache for importers trying to get the vegetable from elsewhere, said Mohammad Idris, a trader based in Dhaka. In the Bangladesh capital, consumers are now being asked to pay 120 taka ($1.42) per kilogramme for their prized onions – twice the price a fortnight ago and the highest since December, 2013.

“Prices are going up elsewhere in Asia and Europe,” said Idris. “Other exporting countries are taking advantage of the Indian ban” to raise their asking price.

In response to the crisis, the government of Bangladesh has initiated sales of subsidised onions through the state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).

“We are looking for all possible options to import onions. Our target is to import in the shortest possible time,” said TCB spokesman Humayun Kabir.

But the shipments from elsewhere – Iran and Turkey are also potential suppliers – that authorities in countries across the region are investigating will all take time.

“It takes one month when it comes from Egypt and about 25 days from China, while it takes only a few days from India,” said Dhaka trader Idris.

The need for alternative imports is so severe, though, that countries like Sri Lanka have already placed orders with Egypt and China, said G Rajendran, president of the Essential Food Commodities, Importers and Traders Association.

Onion prices in Sri Lanka have risen by 50% in a week, to 280-300 Sri Lankan rupees per kilogramme.

‘DOUBLE THE PRICE’

For other countries, there may be little option but to sit tight and hope for the best.

Malaysia, the second-biggest buyer of Indian onions, expects the ban to be temporary and sees no reason to panic, said Sim Tze Tzin, deputy minister of agriculture.

But even India has been importing onions from Egypt in an effort to calm prices. And there won’t be any meaningful drop in prices before summer-sown crops start to hit the market, said Ajit Shah, president of the Mumbai-based Onion Exporters’ Association.

That’s not expected until mid-November, meaning the export ban isn’t going away in the near term.

“India could resume exports once prices drop, but it will take time,” said Shah. “Until India resumes exports, supplies will remain limited in Asia.”

For now, consumers like Kathmandu shopper Pokharel are having to change habits across Asia.

“I went to buy 5 kilogrammes of onions for our five-member family but ended up buying only 3 kilogrammes due to higher prices,” said Afroza Mimi, a Dhaka housewife on a shopping expedition the day after India imposed the export ban.

“They (traders) are selling old stock nearly at double the price. This is crazy.”

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No, RBI didn’t introduce new Rs 1,000 note. The claim is fake

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Images of what appears to be a note of Rs 1,000 is going viral on social media. Several people – on Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp – are sharing the images with the claim that the pictures are that of a new currency note of 1000 denomination that has been introduced by the RBI. The claim and the images are fake.

A closer look reveals that there are several discrepancies in the images. If you zoom in on one of the images – claiming to be the front side of the note – on the topmost right corner there are two words written, “artistic imagination.” Though that’s enough to prove that the image is a work of imagination, here are some more points.

The claim and image that RBI has introduces Rs 1000 note is fake.

There is no notification regarding the introduction of Rs 1,000 notes on RBI’s official website.

A note of any denomination bears a signature of the RBI governor. Though there is a signature on the image, it reads MK Gandhi.

Image and claim of RBi issuing new Rs 1000 notes is fake.

Another search on YouTube revealed that a video with the same image was also shared on February with the same claim.

So, the images claiming that RBI has issued a new Rs 1,000 note are false.

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Delhi air gets toxic, NASA’s crop burning images point to worse days ahead

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The concentration of particulate matter — PM 10 and PM 2.5 — shot up twice the safe limit on Tuesday, when the national capital region’s (NCR) emergency action plan to tackle bad air came into effect, which includes a ban on diesel generator (DG) sets.

Vacuum and water-cleaning of roads will be intensified, pollution hot spots put under closer scrutiny and emission regulations are enforced under GRAP.

The Delhi government is monitoring data from NASA satellite imagery that warned that air pollution is set to worsen in Delhi on account of increase in the number of incidents of stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab.

The red dots indicate stubble burning in neighbouring states.

There was a steep rise in PM 10 and PM 2.5 — the prominent pollutants in Delhi air — over the past five days, when compared to the levels recorded in the first week of October, an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) shows.

According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, on Tuesday, PM 10 was recorded as 263ug/m3 while PM 2.5 was 120ug/m3. The permissible standards for PM 10 and PM 2.5 are 100 and 60, respectively. The air quality index (AQI) till 4pm was 270 in the ‘poor’ category.

There was a steep rise in PM 10 and PM 2.5 — the prominent pollutants in Delhi air — over the past five days, when compared to the levels recorded in the first week of October, an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) shows.

According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, on Tuesday, PM 10 was recorded as 263ug/m3 while PM 2.5 was 120ug/m3. The permissible standards for PM 10 and PM 2.5 are 100 and 60, respectively. The air quality index (AQI) till 4pm was 270 in the ‘poor’ category.

“There has been a rise in PM 10 levels because of dust emissions. Road dust and open storage of construction material are the major factors contributing to high PM 10 levels. We have found huge amount of dust in the air in a series of inspections,” said Bhure Lal, chairperson, Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority.

The pollution watchdog has also warned the India Metrological Department (IMD) that the air may turn ‘very poor’ on Wednesday.

“The smoke travelling to Delhi from stubble burning contributes to PM 2.5 emissions here. With the rise in number of farm fires in the past few days, there is a rise in concentration of particulate matter. Calm surface winds blowing over Delhi from the west and northwest are not able to disperse pollutants,” the analysis stated.

However, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), a unit under Union ministry of earth sciences (MoES), said that stubble burning activity in Haryana and Punjab has shown a slight trend over the past 24 hours. The effect from stubble burning to PM 2.5 level in Delhi was 5% on Tuesday, which was lower than 9% on Sunday.

The ban on DG sets in Delhi and vicinity towns came as a pre-emptive measure under the Graded Response Action Plan (Grap) that was enforced in Delhi-NCR from Tuesday. The plan defines specific actions to tackle different levels of air pollution throughout the year.

According to a senior DPCC official, so far no violations of the generator set ban had been recorded. “We have developed a mechanism for monitoring such violations and have alerted all district heads as well as municipal corporations to inform us of any such complaint.”

Delhi sees a rise in pollution during this time of the year owing to a change in meteorological conditions, combined with local emissions and the effects of crop residue burning in neighbouring states. This is because wind patterns change and blows from the northwest during , bringing pollutants such as smoke, to Delhi with it.

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Delhi govt to announce fitness fee, GPS charges waiver for taxis

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The Delhi government on Monday gave its nod to fully waive the fitness test fees and GPS-related charges for all taxis in the national Capital. It also slashed charges of other documentation and penalties by 60-80% for all cabs registered in Delhi.

The move comes ahead of the assembly elections scheduled in Delhi early next year. As per government data, the scheme will benefit at least a lakh taxis in the city.

Transport minister Kailash Gahlot said the revised fees will be applicable only for those cabs, which are registered under an individual and not in the name of private companies.

“There are only over 15,000 such taxis that are registered directly under cab-aggregators or other taxi companies. So, the scheme will cover most of the cab drivers in Delhi. Also, after the steep hike in penalties under the amended Motor Vehicles Act, these reduced rates will come as a relief for them. It will encourage them to regularly get their cars checked for fitness and help in curbing vehicular emission,” the minister said.

In August, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had announced a similar scheme for auto-rickshaws which is now benefiting nearly 95,000 autos.

The decision to waive fitness test fees for taxis, be it manual or automatic and GPS related fees (Rs 1200 for tracking and Rs 450-Rs550 for SIM card) was taken by the Delhi Cabinet led by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday. The transport department has been asked to issue an order and roll out the scheme from November 1.

The government also slashed the fees for taking a new permit and renewing the same from the existing rate of Rs 1500 and Rs 2,000 to a flat rate of Rs 500. The revision specifically of the permit-fee will, however, need an amended in the Delhi Motor Vehicle Rules which transport department officials said will be done soon.

Besides, registering a newly bought cab will also get cheaper by 70% and so will the subsequent re-registration charges. This fee is currently Rs 1000 which has been revised to Rs 300. Duplicate registration rates will be Rs 150 instead of the current fee of Rs 500.

For drivers who have bought their taxis on loan, the government has reduced the ‘hire purchase’ or hypothecation charge from Rs 1500 to Rs 500.

Similar reductions have also been done in various penalties that are levied by the state government. The fine for delay in getting a cab checked for its fitness will be Rs 300 instead of Rs 1000.

Officials said an estimate of how much this latest scheme is going to cost the government is being ascertained. “It is likely to be less than Rs 20 crore, could be between Rs 10-15 crore in all likelihood,” said an official.

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