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'Even dal has become a luxury'

Last updated on: June 24, 2010 12:30 IST

'Even dal has become a luxury'

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Indrani Roy Mitra and Manu A B

"Moong dal used to be a part of our every day meal. Today, I cannot afford to buy it. We now buy dal once a month as prices have doubled in the last one year. I feel sad to think that even dal has become a luxury. I don't know how we will live at this rate," says Purani, a domestic worker.

And she is not the only one hit by the rising prices. Across the country, price rise has hit the lives of millions. The prices of pulses had never before run into 3 digits. The price of moong dal has zoomed to Rs 120-140 per kg. And there is no sign of prices coming down, despite what the government keeps saying on curbing inflation.

Food inflation rose marginally to 16.74 per cent for the week ended May 29 on high prices of pulses, milk and fruits. Prices of pulses shot up by 31 per cent, milk by 21.1 per cent and fruits by 18.7 per cent.

Rediff.com talks to a cross section of people on the impact of rising food prices.

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Image: No end to price rise.
Photographs: Reuters.
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'Govt is not paying enough attention'

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Shailesh Gandhi
Central Information Commissioner

The rising inflation is a cause of concern and the price rise needs to be curbed. Inflation has badly hit the poor and the salaried class.

The government is not paying enough attention to address the issue of price rise. Equity is not being focussed. The government is focussed on high growth but this growth without curbing inflation does not make sense. Price rise is a sensitive issue but now politicians are taking it easy as they feel they are safe.

The immediate answer to rising inflation would be to hike interest rates. It is imperative to save people's savings for sustainable growth. Low interest rates with high growth is counter-productive.

Prices are not likely to come down anytime too soon. The food supply may ease with a good monsoon but the prices will continue to remain high.

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Image: Shailesh Gandhi.

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'Our entire family budget has gone topsy-turvy'

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Rajan Alimchandani
Consumer Activist

How badly has inflation affected your life?

Inflation has ruined everyone. Our entire family budget has gone topsy-turvy. It is shocking that tomatoes are priced at Rs 50; sometimes even at Rs 80, a kilo. Even basic food items are becoming so expensive.

When the middle class and upper middle class are suffering so much, I can't imagine the plight of the poor people.

The worst part is the people at the helm, the decision-makers, who get everything free. Corruption has eaten into the system.

It is high time politicians stopped this money-making exercise. There should be a limit for amassing wealth. How much gold, diamonds and cars will they go on buying when a good majority in the country is starving?

The Bharatiya Janata Party is right when it says we have a weak prime minister.

Prices of which items are pinching the most?

Everything is expensive. Be it vegetables, pulses, telephone bills, electricity bills, auto fares. Dal, which is a staple diet, is now priced between Rs 120 and Rs 140. Running day-to-day activities has become so difficult.

How are you coping with price rise? What have you cut down on?

When the prices have risen ten-fold, salaries have not gone up correspondingly. We are forced to cut down on simple things like going out for dinner, going for movies, cut down on holiday plans and avoid any kind luxury.

What are the reasons for the price rise?

It is due to bad management of resources. The public distribution system is a complete failure. In India, there is a complete misuse of resources. When wheat is rotting in the godowns, prices are zooming. They have proper storehouses for alcohol but food which is the basic necessity is being wasted.

Do you think the prices will come down soon?

The ministers have been saying that prices will come down since many months. There has been no respite yet. The prices will continue to rise.

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Image: Rajan Alimchandani.

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'We have been forced to cut down on good food'

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Yogesh Amritlal Jakharia,
Grocery shop owner

How badly has inflation affected your life?

Prices have hit record highs in the pat two years. It is very difficult to manage household expenses. We have to think twice before buying anything.

Prices of which items are pinching the most?

Pulses and grains are the most expensive now. Their prices at all all-time highs. The only thing which is cheaper now is washing powder, phenyl, toilet cleaners, etc. The prices have not decreased but the companies are offering more for the same price or offering free soaps, etc.

How are you coping with price rise?

We are forced to cut down on having good quality food. We have to give up using luxury products, which even include perfumes, etc. We have stopped going out to eat. I have started using the bicycle and kept the scooter only for long distances.

What are the reasons for the price rise?

The main reason is the lack of agricultural land. With commercial space and real estate taking over land, the space for agriculture is dwindling. This has severely affected the product cycle. We have to depend on imports for many food items, which again leads to a price rise. The population is at bursting point and we do not have enough resources to feed this rising population. The rise in petrol prices is also another factor.

How have your sales been affected?

People have cut down on buying. The profit margin has come down from 20 per cent to 10 per cent now. So we are badly hit. Money is losing its purchasing power.

Do you think the prices will come down soon?

In the last two years, prices have not dropped. So I do not see a fall in prices. They may rise further.

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Image: Yogesh Amritlal Jakharia.

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'Middle class people are the worst-hit'

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Ashok Kumar
Life Insurance advisor

How badly has inflation affected your life?

Inflation has badly affected our savings. My planning has gone haywire. We obviously can't go hungry just to save money. Middle class people are the worst-hit as we do not get food items at subsidised prices.

The rich are well off and the poor get rice at Rs 2 per kg. Our salaries have not increased to cope with this huge rise in prices. With a housing loan and children's education also to take care of, price rise is a nightmare.

Prices of which items are pinching the most?

The price of dal, pulses is the most shocking. I have never seen prices rise to these kind of shocking levels ever before. Electricity charges have also shot up.

How are you coping with price rise?

I am not able to save anything. We have to cut down on any extra luxury that we were used to. I have stopped using the car. I have decided to cut down on shopping and travelling. I try to walk whenever possible.

What are the reasons for the price rise?

The price rise is due to an artificial scarcity. The government supports big companies who take over the agricultural produce from the fields.

They store it in their godowns and create a scarcity to hike prices. There has been no calamity, the agricultural produce has increased, so why is there still a shortage for food? The government has to be blamed for the total mismanagement of resources.

The government should help farmers, take over the yield, pay a good price and distribute it a fair price. Even at the panchayat level, this can be done easily. Co-operative societies should come forward to take over local produce and pay the farmers.

Schemes like NREGA should work towards better utilization of our resources. Many paddy fields are lying barren today.

Agriculture is totally ignored today. There is no incentive for farmers in Kerala as a result paddy fields have paved the way for buildings and brick factories.

Farmers have now turned construction workers as it pays them more. While we are suffering for no fault of ours, businessmen are minting money.

Do you think the prices will come down soon?

Unless, the government takes corrective measures, the prices will not come down.

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Image: Ashok Kumar.

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'The govt is to blame for high prices'

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Nikky Gupta
Director (Media Operations), Teamwork Media Solutions

How badly has inflation affected your life?

Inflation is actually shocking. Inflation always hurt the standard of living of an individual. Rising prices means you have to pay more for the same goods and services where as income increases at slower rate.

Did you get salary hike this time? Has inflation quashed the effect of the salary hike?

No, I have not. Inflation has adversely affected my salary hike.

How has inflation affected your savings?

Savings are not enough now. Prices of almost everything have risen. Be it petrol or sugar. Savings are almost nil.

Have you cut down on this vacation plans or postponed buying some luxury item?

Well, vacations and luxury items are important for all. This time, I have to rethink these things.

Prices of which items are pinching the most?

Prices of all essential things which are vital for the survival of a human being have increased. Sugar, pulses, petrol prices are going up day by day.

How are you coping with price rise? Have you cut down car usage?

I have cut down on spending. I spend only where I require it the most. With the hike in gas price I do try to avoid my car.

What else have you cut down due to rising prices?

I have cut down shopping for shoes, bags and clothes.

Whom do you blame for the price rise?

The government has to look after inflation. The government has to be blamed for it. It's high time the prices are brought down.

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Image: Nikky Gupta.

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'Essential items are out of reach of common people'

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Surojit Maity
A printing house employee

I think the United Progressive Alliance has failed completely in containing price rise so far. Reams of articles have been written about it, economists and analysts have cried themselves hoarse over the issue but to no avail.

While the government has been methodically throwing up glossy 8-9 per cent growth rates of India, the prices of essential commodities have systematically gone out of the reach of the common people.

As a salaried person, I am most hit by the steep rise in prices of rice, pulses, vegetable and, of course, fish.

I have been forced to cut down on entertainment expenses like going for a movie every month or eating out once in 2 months, thanks to this maddening price rise.

What surprises me is the fact that we have two eminent economists at the helm -- our honourable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Yet, they cannot come up with a solution. Why is this so?

Then, are we to suppose that the government is deliberately not paying any attention to this issue?

As there is no election on the horizon, the government is sitting pretty and doing nothing.

What I find really irksome is rampant corruption that has gnawed into every part of the system. The traders are hiking the prices of essential commodities at their will and there is hardly any supervision.

Why can't the government take some strict measures to counter fraud that dogs effective distribution of essential commodities through PDS and similar outlets?

It is high time the government stood by its people and plugged the holes.

Apart from putting stress on hiking production of foodgrains, etc, the government should bring to book the hoarders and illegal traders. I am sure rising prices will come down to a large extent once it is done.   

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Image: Surojit Maity at work.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Rising prices have taken a heavy toll on my life'

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Tuhin Banerjee
Mobile phone store owner

It seems the government of India is a great fan of the renowned sorcerer P C Sorcar (Junior). The way prices of essential commodities commodities are spiraling up, it seems that the great magician is at work.

Even a year ago, a hundred rupee note would get me at least a half bag of vegetables. But now, for the same amount, I managed to get only a third of the bag full.

A few months ago, the same kind of rice that I used to buy for Rs 17/kilogram is now available at Rs 22/kilogram. This is sheer lunacy.

The price of pulses is skyrocketing as well, not to mention the price of fish. As you know, for us, Bengalis, fish is the staple food but as monsoon arrived somewhat late in West Bengal, prices of fish as mundane as the Rohu has escalated to an unaffordable extent.

I wonder why the central government is yet to wake up to the issue?  Is it because there is no election in recent future or is it because it is too inefficient and callous to deal with the problem?

I just refuse to believe that the government can't do anything. The ministers are just not doing anything because it does not concern them.

We are casting our votes, paying our taxes in time. Therefore, why can't we expect better service from those whom we elect?

The unbridled inflation has taken a serious toll on my life and I have been forced to make some serious changes.  

I have been planning to buy myself a car for some time but that plan will have to be shelved. Under the present circumstances, I just can't afford to burden myself with a loan.

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Image: Tuhin Banerjee.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'When will the govt take steps to curb price rise?'

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Dr Jnanendranath Sikder
Retired central government employee

I am a self-made man. I built my life from a scratch and never had to beg from anyone. I worked in dignity and always held my head high. Not any more.

The uncontrolled rise in prices of essential commodities in recent times have dealt a serious blow to my self-respect.

Till recently, I was happily running the house at a monthly budget of Rs 15,000. The amount accrued from my pension and also from the investments I had made post retirement.

But gradually, the same Rs 15,000 started falling far short of my needs and even Rs 25,000 (the outer limit to which I could stretch my purse) seemed inadequate.

Even cutting down on daily consumption of fish and other non-vegetarian dishes and other entertainment-related expenses did not seem enough.

Thereafter, I was forced to ask my sons to send me some money every month. My head hangs in shame at having to take this step but I was forced to do so.

Since I have served the government all my life, I think I deserve some respect. Compromising on my values is the last thing I wanted to do.

As the middle-class and the lower middle class people reel under the burden of inflation, I want to pose some questions to the government:

  • When will it take some effective measures to curb price rise?
  • If production has to be improved, may I know what steps have been taken to that effect so far?
  • Why the hoarders and illegal traders not being nabbed?
  • Black marketers are thronging the system. Why are they not being punished?
  • Why is there no government supervision over the PDS and similar such schemes?
  • Is the government sitting idle on the issue deliberately? Are we to suppose that the government wants the rich to be richer and the poorer to be poorer for its own good?
  • When the financial pundits speak of 8.5 per cent GDP growth, do they take the price rise into account? If so, how can they take pride in such filmsy statistics when more than half the population of India is struggling to make both ends meet?  

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Image: Dr Jnanendranath Sikder.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Our household budget has tripled in the last few months'

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Bandana Chakraborty
Housewife

I belong to a middle-class family and we have very limited needs. To be precise, we have always practised the method of keeping our needs within limit. But even then, things are going out of our hand and I am struggling to run the house.

My husband is a state government employee. Till about a year ago, we could comfortably manage with the money he gave me. But not any more.

Our monthly household budget has tripled in the last five months and we all are at a loss. We have cut down on many things: we have started having less elaborate dinners and lunches, we have stopped eating out or going to the movies.

In May, when the heat became debilitating, we thought of buying an air-conditioner but had to postpone the plan. We just cannot afford that luxury now.

Instead, I am planning to give tuitions while my son is thinking of taking up a part-time job to make things better at home.

Thankfully, we have married our daughters off. And though my husband, who is will retire soon, has my son's marriage on mind too, we just don't know how to go about it. The mad inflation has eaten into our savings of late.

I am not too educated and don't want to make tall talks but I do feel the efficient minds in the government can come up with a solution to this crisis.

As an insignificant yet tax-paying citizen of India, I appeal to the honourable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to take some immediate steps to bring down the prices.

After all, it is us who elected them and it's time they did something for our benefit.

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Image: Bandana Chakraborty
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'I feel so helpless and sad'

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Bankim Sarkar
Fish-seller

This UPA government -- please don't ask me its full form as I wouldn't know -- wants the poor people like us to starve. Else, why is it sitting pretty as prices of essential commodities go out of our reach.

My monthly income varies between Rs 8,000 and Rs 8,500 a month. Even with this paltry amount, I was catering to my family's needs somewhat well. You can say, our family of four was having two square meals a day.

During a shortfall, I would ask my daughter, who gives tuitions to pitch in. Things were not too smooth but not disastrous either.

But not any more.

Now, everything has become so expensive that I dread getting up in the morning. 'Another day of worry, another day of misery'. How will I make the both ends meet, the question drives me mad.

Just when I was thinking of expanding my business and setting up an outlet of my own, my dream was bombarded by this disgusting inflation. Now, I can not even afford to dream.

Now, we cannot afford non-vegetarian food at home more than twice a week, we had to forego cable television subscription and had to sell off my son's bicycle.

My daughter is in her early 20s. We would have to think of her marriage soon. But where will I get the money from? I simply don't know.

I make a living out of selling fish. I need to have a healthy stock of ice to preserve the fish. But even price of ice has risen so sharply that often my stock of fish, only adding to my endless woes.

I always thought I was a strong person -- someone who had the grit to brave any storm. But I have no qualms in admitting that my strength is fading fast. I feel so helpless and sad.

I don't want to make any appeal to the government as I know for sure it will do nothing. After all, struggle is the way of life only for us, the hapless poor of India.

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Image: Bankim Sarkar.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
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'Hoarding has led to this situation'

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Anil Galgali
Social activist

How badly has inflation affected your life?

Price rise is the biggest problem we face today. Earlier, we could run the house with Rs 7,000-8,000. But now things are getting out of hand. Even having dal-rice has become so difficult. Dal-rice is the staple food in every household. Even if people could not buy many other things, dal, rice were affordable. This kind of situation has never happened before. We are not able to save at all now. Since the purchasing power of money has gone down, we are not able to fulfill many things at our homes, which is leading to quarrels even affecting relationships.

Prices of which items are pinching the most?

Vegetables, which are so cheap in places like Nashik, are at all time highs in Mumbai.  The poor farmers do not get anything from this price rise. It is the middlemen and traders who are making all the money. With a hike in petrol prices and hike in auto, taxi fares, the situation is getting worse.

How are you coping with price rise?

The situation is so bad that we even have to cut down on what we eat. Earlier we used to make 3 vegetable curries. Now we make only two. We are also forced to cut down on milk and tea. Even eating out has become so expensive. A lunch that used to cost about Rs 20-25 has now gone up by Rs 10-15.

What are the reasons for the price rise?

The failure of the government to stop traders from hoarding has led to this situation. Since the UPA government has come back to power again, they are taking it easy. Our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was a good finance minister has failed to curb price rise.

Do you think the prices will come down soon?

The prices which are so high will not come down. It will continue to make our lives miserable.


Image: Anil Galgali.

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'Even dal has become a luxury'

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Vipul Joshi
(VP, Sales & Marketing), IdeaForge

How has the rising inflation affected your life?

Rise in food prices have directly affected the monthly budgets, which in turn affects savings. Since it's hard to curb the basic necessities, inflation impacts spending on entertainment and eating out. Since most of the shopping is from the modern retail chains, there is additional cost attached to every commodity.

Did you get salary hike this time? Has inflation quashed the effect of the salary hike?

No, there was no salary hike. The rental rates are sky rocketing in Mumbai, adding to our woes. Even a hike would not have eased the situation.

How has inflation affected your savings?

There are strong negative sentiments in equity market, due to which regular fluctuations are happening, affecting my investments in mutual funds. With such a high inflation rate I am not sure the promised return on mutual funds would justify the purpose of those investments/savings. Although it would be naive to say that it is just the inflation which is affecting the stock market, there are other international market factors involved.

How has inflation affected your business?

Expenses have increased due to price rise. It is difficult to adjust pricing change in the consumer electronic segment and employees demanding pay hike for meeting their needs.

Have you cut down on his vacation plans or postponed buying some luxury item?

I was planning to apply for a personal loan but since my savings are affected and government planning to enforce more stricter measures, a hike in interest rates is going to put huge pressure. 

Prices of which items are pinching the most?

Food prices and rise in transportation cost.

What do you think are the reasons for the price rise?

Though we claim that we are moving towards an industrial economy, we still are predominantly an agrarian economy, so the bad rain and droughts have affected the price food items.

The government stimulus has put pressure on the economy, which in turn fuels the inflation.

Do you think the prices will come down soon?

It would depend on this year's monsoon and how the government plans to divest stake in public sector undertakings. Getting more funds for infrastructure would help  to create more jobs. The manufacturing sector should also get a boost.


Image: Vipul Joshi.

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