Amidst soaring tomato prices across the country, incidents of theft are being reported in Gujarat, particularly near the vegetable markets of Surat, Ahmedabad, and Bhavnagar. Instances of individuals stealing sacks full of tomatoes instead of traditional valuables or money are coming to light. One such incident involved an unemployed man from Bhavnagar, who had recently settled in Surat in search of better job opportunities. He fled with three sacks of tomatoes weighing no less than 150 kgs, before being caught while attempting to sell them off.
These tomatoes had been freshly packed and were ready for distribution to the supply chain when the accused, identified as Ghanshyam Devipujak, decided to engage in a smash-and-grab operation. These tomatoes would have sold at an average cost of Rs 83-84 per kg. Interestingly, the accused attempted to sell them at a significantly lower price of Rs 40 per kg. “We apprehended the man after the traders alerted us about the missing sacks. Several witnesses had also seen him running with the three sacks, which were later confirmed to contain 150 kgs of tomatoes,” stated officials from Surat Police.
Similar instances are being reported by various Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) across the state. In a previous incident in Surat, not only tomatoes but also brinjals, garlic, and potatoes were stolen. A recent complaint was filed regarding the theft of potatoes worth Rs 17,000.
Kapodra police said they had confiscated all the stolen vegetables and returned them to the rightful owner, while further investigation was currently underway.
In response to the escalating tomato prices, a vegetable vendor in Varanasi has taken an unconventional approach to protect his stall. Ajay Fauji, a member of the Samajwadi Party, explained that he opted for this security measure due to instances of violence and tomato theft reported in the area.
Fauji, who recently celebrated Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav’s birthday by cutting a tomato-shaped cake in Varanasi, decided to employ bouncers to discourage aggressive behaviour during price negotiations with buyers. The media reported that these hired guards are stationed at Fauji’s cart from 9 am to 5 pm.
A video capturing the bouncers in action was shared by Akhilesh Yadav. The footage reveals two bouncers diligently guarding the vegetable vendor’s stall, while prominent sign boards displaying messages like “Payment first, tomato later” and “Please don’t touch the tomatoes and chillies” are visible.
Reacting to the news, Yadav retweeted an image of a news clip featuring Fauji and his bouncers and commented, “The BJP should provide ‘Z-Plus’ security to tomatoes.”
According to farmers, the surge in tomato prices can be attributed to a combination of production and supply shortages caused by a heatwave and delayed monsoon. Tomato prices have skyrocketed across various regions in India, reaching as high as Rs 200 per kilogram, a fivefold price increase compared to previous years. Although tomato prices typically surge during the lean production months of June and July, this year’s impact has been particularly severe.
In response to the price surge, popular fast food chain McDonald’s has temporarily removed tomatoes from its menu. The shortage has even affected McDonald’s outlets in India, where signs were put up to inform customers that tomatoes would no longer be included in burgers and other dishes due to a lack of availability.
A spokesperson for a McDonald’s operator in North India confirmed the temporary removal of tomatoes from some branches, citing “seasonal crop issues arising out of farm fields in a few regions” as the reason. They mentioned that there were not enough tomatoes meeting their quality specifications but expressed hope that they would soon be reintroduced to the menu.