When vegetables become a luxury.

By Zahra Motorwala

Imagine what happens to the household budget of a person who earns Rs 100 a day and is told that the vegetables he needs to buy to fill his stomach have increased to double their price. Thus if he previously spent Rs 35-40 on vegetables required in one day he now either has to spend double or triple or cut down on vegetables. These are both two extreme because neither can he afford to spend so much money on basic vegetables and nor can he entirely stop eating vegetables. When the prices of vegetables and specially onions increased last November, the household budgets of the people increased causing them problems in sustaining the entire month.

In December last year the food inflation rose to 18.32%. This was the highest ever. Inflation is the imbalance in the demand and supply of vegetables. This happened when the onion prices went increased from Rs 25-30 to Rs 60 and even Rs 80 at one point. This increase in the onion prices was due to the unseasonal rainfall that spoilt the October harvest. Onions, which are extensively used in Indian delicacies is an important ingredient in all types of dishes. Thus it became very difficult for people to cope with the price rise. The rise in price of onions was coupled with a rise in prices of patrol, diesel and cooking gas. This acted like the last nail in the coffin. Along with other reasons the transportation costs of onions played a major role in the onion prices rising, due to the hike in oil prices.

Price of pulses, tomatoes, potatoes, milk and dairy products also saw a rise along with that of onions. Thus all these made survival almost impossible for the lower middle classes. Families which could not afford these vegetables almost stopped purchasing them completely and substituting them for other vegetables. During this period the prices of garlic also sky rocketed and were expected to increase to Rs 500.

It was a difficult period for the Indian middle class because now they had to spend more for their basic necessities and this affected their savings. The scope for them to take part in other activities and spend on things like education and medical treatment almost died. The middle class was affected by this rise in price but it was not like they could not afford it at all. People cribbed and complained but still bought vegetables. The quantity became less and the variety of food cooked also became less but there was food in the middle class families. Though they were affected they survived. But the worst affected were the lower middle class and lower-income groups which have a fixed amount of money they get per day in which they have to survive. For them survival had become difficult as although the vegetable prices increased their incomes remained the same and they now had lower disposable income. The union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar blamed the unseasonal rainfall without taking any responsibility of the food inflation rise. The state agriculture minister Radhakrishnan Vikhe-patil said in an interview that hoarders were the ones who made the most money and if hoarding of vegetables should stop in order for the prices to come down. There were many steps taken by the state and union for controlling inflation.

The inflation prices have become stable today and the vegetables prices have decreased to the normal affordable prices, making the lives of the common man easy to live. Vegetables have again become an affordable ingredient but what if the situation prevails and food inflation rises again. Thus the lives of the lower middle class is always at a risk.

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