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Armed Guards to Protect Tomatoes

Armed guards have been deployed across wholesale vegetable markets in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state to "protect" tomatoes, prices of which had escalated almost five-fold in recent weeks.

Equipped with blunderbuss-like shotguns, the guards have been installed at the main vegetable market in the city of Indore, 120 miles from the state capital Bhopal, to ensure that tomatoes costing Rs 100 (£1.19) per kg are not looted.

Tomatoes constitute an essential ingredient in most Indian food, but have been in short supply across the country since late June due to heavy monsoon rains that have damaged the crop.

Fierce downpours in major tomato producing states like Karnataka in southern India have also contributed to the shortages by disrupting their transportation to other parts of the country.

Santosh Narang, a wholesale tomato dealer in Indore’s Devi Holkar market said the security of their tomato piles was of "paramount concern" after thieves looted 300kg of the fruit worth Rs 70,000 (£833), in Mumbai in mid-July.

After Mumbai’s tomato heist, Indore’s panicky vegetable wholesalers approached the authorities demanding security, especially when trucks carrying the valued fruit were being unloaded and at their most vulnerable to looters.

The guards, of which there are around six, were deployed in response.

The spike in tomato prices, which made the front page of Indian newspapers and led television news, is also worrying provincial governments, many of which had previously been voted out of office following a hike in vegetable prices.
Onions, also critical to Indian cooking, have played a seminal role in state and federal politics, after a rise in their cost in 2007 rattled the ruling Congress Party.

In 1998 the Congress Party defeated the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in several state elections, after onion prices soared due to shortages triggered by the monsoon.

Ironically, a few months ago farmers across the country were dumping tomatoes on roadsides following a bumper crop that was selling for a pittance in the cities.
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