The unprecedented price rise in recent months of virtually every essential commodity is forcing poor families in Bangalore to rethink their cooking and food habits. People like Afeena for instance, a resident of Byapanhally who has been doing housekeeping work in Bengaluru for the past 15 years to help support her husband, an autorickshw driver and two children. The average income of her family is Rs 18,000-20,000 a month.
“Cooking oil has become very expensive at Rs 200-250 per kg,” says Afeena. “So instead of buying one kilogram, I now buy small quantities of Rs 10-15 which lasts just a day or two. I can somehow manage to not eat oily food but what can we do if children ask for it. Also, beef used be cheap but it is banned now and very difficult to get. Price of chicken and mutton too are very high.”
So now Afeena only cooks vegetables which costs Rs 30 rupees for quarter kg once a day which comprises the family’s three meals. Meat she buys only on days when she gets paid. “Nobody is thinking of poor people like us,” says Afeena. “If the government is increasing the price of essential commodities, they should increase our salaries too”.
The extent of the price rise, as usual, is hurting most families like Afeena’s, the urban poor many of whom are yet recover from the economic effects of the pandemic and whose source of income is limited and insecure. The reasons trotted out for the price rise —untimely rain, unusual heat and the Ukraine war which has disrupted supply chains across the globe— is of little consolation to them. Given that the price increase covers virtually every essential commodity like petrol, LPG cylinder, vegetables and cooking oil, to name a few.
The plight of poor urban families is made worse by the informal nature of work which offers them no financial security. The intensity of their distress is indicated by the fact that there was a 24% jump in job-related suicide cases in 2022 as compared to 2020, according to data available with the National Crime Records Bureau.
Citizen Matters attempted to understand how families like Afeena’s are managing their expenditure on food in the present circumstances.
The upward spiral
There is a direct connection between fuel prices and retail prices as cities get most of their daily use items from distant areas. Since the beginning of 2022, fuel prices have been hiked multiple times, which has had a cascading effect down the supply chain.
Whatever spin one may put on the inflation or price rise data, the fact is that the RBI has been largely unsuccessful in keeping to its target of keeping inflation under 6% inflation in 2022.
The report on inflation data for April 2022 published by the Union Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation confirms that inflation rate has increased from 4.23% in April 2021 to 7.79% in April 2022, the highest inflation increase recorded in the last eight years. A significant rise in inflation was noticed in the CFPI (consumer food price index), which increased from 3.15% to 8.09% in the same period.
The data further shows that prices of cereals and other products have touched a 21-month high of 5.96% and vegetables a 17-month high of 15.4%. Additionally, CPI of food and beverages increased from 2.67% in Jan 2021 to 8.10 % in April 2022. Karnataka has seen an increase in the inflation rate from 4.13% in Jan 2021 to 6.39% in April 2022.
“We used to buy plastic bags to pack waste for Rs 30 per bag earlier, now they cost Rs 38-40,” says Lotfar, a waste picker. “Transportation companies pass on the fuel price hike to customers and the extra financial burden falls on us”.
Girish lives in Hulimavu and has been an auto driver in the city for the past five years. Unfortunately for him, he runs an LPG gas auto. “LPG used to be Rs 45-50 per litre, now costs Rs 70**,” says Girish whose daily income has come down drastically after the petroleum price hike. “For 1km, charges were increased by just two rupees. Passengers are hesitant to pay the higher price. But the auto is our only source of income”.
Adding to the distress caused by the increases in prices of food items, the big rise in price of the domestic gas cylinder has been particularly harsh on the poor. Cylinder price has been revised multiple times amounting to an increase of about Rs 50 per cylinder. In urban households, this is the only cooking fuel used and its usage cannot be easily reduced, no matter how expensive it gets.
How poor families are coping
Anecdotal evidence confirms that poor families are forced to skip meals or reduce their consumption heavily due to the extra cost.
“Before this we were eating three times, now we are eating two times only,” says Reena, a Pourakarmika working with BBMP in Bengaluru who earns Rs 12,000 per month. Reena is a single mother of two children residing in Chamrajpet. “If prices increase every day, how will people who work on daily wages get money for it?”
“Prices for cooking oil, rations, and gas everything has increased, but what can we do, we have to eat,” says Mohan, a daily wage construction worker from Bihar. He lives in Kothnur along with three-four other workers from the same state. “I have to pay Rs 100 to buy half a kg of cooking oil. Fruits we don’t eat at all. We eat fish or chicken on Sunday. If prices had not gone up we would have been able to save some money. Now all our money is gone”.
All India daily average retail price of essential commodities (Rs/kg)
|Commodities||Price as on 23/05/2022||1 day back (22/05/2022)||2 days back (21/05/2022)||3 days back (20/05/2022)||4 days back (19/05/2022)||5 days back (18/05/2022)||1 week back (16/05/2022)||1 month back (23/04/2022)||1 year back (23/05/2021)|
|Sunflower Oil (Packed)||192.53||192.15||192.57||191.89||192.52||192.4||191.76||187.53||173.83|
Workers like Mohan and others like him, still have to manage the day to day expenses like rent, electricity, gas, etc. After paying all this, very little is left for food. Which is where all the economising is happening.
“In this area, most of the people at my shops come from a lower-income background who earn around Rs 8000-9000 rupees a month,” says Amar Jeet who runs a small snacks shop in Hulimavu. “Earlier they would buy two samosas, now they buy only one, that too after a gap of two or three days. Customer footfalls have fallen. Many customers used to come 3-4 days a week, now they show up only once or twice a week. They come after they receive payment for the month. Generally, they hardly visit the shop after the 20th of the month”.
“To adjust to the price rise in cooking oil and gas, we have reduced the quantity a little bit,” adds Amar Jeet. “For Cauliflower we have increased per plate cost by five rupees as its price has increased by Rs 10 in the market. We cannot increase it a lot otherwise our customers will not be able to afford it. We are trying to adjust price for other items too”.
Most Small food shop owners like Amar Jeet are struggling to attract customers. Even as their customers struggle to control their expense on food items.
[The author would like to thank Mohan, Afeena, Reena, Girish, Amar Jeet and Lotfar for sharing their stories. The author would like to also acknowledge Gayathri, Francis, and Saubhagya, for helping to reach out to the workers and Celestina for the translation support for the article.]
**Errata: Girish’s quote has been corrected to reflect the true current price of LPG/litre, which had been mistakenly mentioned as Rs 7 instead of Rs 70 in the earlier published version.