If Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the health front, inflation and the resulting hike in prices of essential commodities in the face of salary cuts and job losses have dealt a double blow for the common man, especially those from the middle and lower-middle income groups and below poverty line (BPL) segments of society. Adding to the worries is the rising fuel prices petrol breaching the Rs 100/litre-mark for the very first time and diesel creeping up, at over Rs 92 per litre in most places across the state.
The price hike is forcing people to shrink diets and reduce the use of daily essentials at a time when robust nutrition should be the priority to boost immunity in the light of the current pandemic. A daily wager’s family earns up to Rs 10,000-12,000 a month and their monthly expenses would be Rs 3,000-4,000 even after getting PDS ration. But now they have to spend about Rs 7,000 and many are struggling to eke out a living, with no savings.
Yellappa Bhajantri, a daily wager from Hulkoti in Gadag district, says, “Last year, dal was Rs 90 per kg and now the price jumped to Rs 170-plus, based on quality. As fuel prices increased, other items have also become more expensive. Our family monthly earning was Rs 15,000 before the lockdown, but now, for the last two months, our income is zero.”
Those who ate leafy vegetables are now settling for cheaper grains, and a majority who earlier used refined cooking oil are settling for cheaper palm oil, which doctors have discouraged, considering its adverse effects the coronary, vascular and cardiac health. Those from under-privileged sections, who normally consume boiled rice, are opting for lower quality rice through the public distribution system.
Nagalingaiah Mathapati, a small farmer from Venkatbennur village in Kalaburagi district, earlier spent Rs 4,000-Rs 5,000 a month on groceries; now the expenses have gone up to Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000. He is forced to use palm oil (Rs 120 per litre) as the cost of refined sunflower oil that he used daily has now jumped to over Rs 180 per litre. He is also using lower grade quality of tur dal.
For most BPL families, survival has become a challenge due to the hike in prices of essential commodities. Suma, a homemaker in Kolar, is finding it extremely difficult to maintain the household budget with prices of groceries shooting up, particularly that of cooking oil, which is being sold at Rs 163 per litre, whereas last year, it was Rs112. Her husband works as a clerk in a private school, which has cut his salary by 50 per cent. Considering children’s education and medical expenses, and left with no other option, her husband has cancelled the life insurance policy and withdrawn the amount to supplement expenses.
Yashvanth Pai, who works with a private enterprise in Manipal, says price rise has pulverized his family budget. “As I faced a 30 per cent salary cut during the lockdown period, I am extra cautious while shopping. I have stopped buying sunflower oil and shifted to rice bran oil, which is available at Rs 160 per litre against Rs 180 for sunflower oil. I did not analyse its impact on health. Sometimes, it is inevitable that we adapt to situations,” he says.
Madikeri homemaker Ashwini AS is not willing to compromise on health matters. “The price of edible oil was Rs 90 per litre a few months ago. It is Rs 190 now. But I cannot shift to other types of cooking oil as I fear its impact on health,” she says. “The middle class has been badly affected by the price hike. I have to spend over Rs 3,000-plus monthly on electricity bills. People are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. Instead of being supportive, the government is hiking prices of essentials.”
She feels it has made life miserable for the three segments. “Farmers are not benefiting from the price hike and neither are customers. It looks like only the government and brokers are benefiting from it,” she rued.
Meanwhile, wholesalers and merchants associations’ members have blamed the price hike on bulk buying and stocking by large retail chains. They say small retail stores did not increase prices drastically as compared to the big chain stores.
“Since large retail chains had purchased in bulk from millers and stocked up, they had to hike prices to make ends meet. But the small retailers who purchase from wholesalers periodically have not hiked it that much. The large brands had hiked the rates from about 10 per cent to 20-25 per cent. For instance, one kg of tur dal, costing Rs 90-105, was hiked to Rs 120-140,” pointed out a trader.
With inputs from
Bosky Khanna; M G Chetan; Prajna G R; Divya Cutinho; Arpitha I; Prakash Samaga; Ajith M S; V Velayudham; Mallikarjun Hiremath; Sunil S Patil and Raghu Koppar