In the second part of a series on spiralling prices, K. Lakshmi throws light on the varying rates of cooking oil and pulses across the city

After gold, cash and electronics, groceries seem to be the latest target of thieves in the city.

Last Thursday, sugar, spices, pulses, cooking oil and a 25-litre can of kerosene, apart from gold jewellery and cash, were stolen from a house in Kolathur.

Not too surprising, considering the steep hike in prices of essential commodities such as cooking oil and daal over the past few months.

Cooking oil is costlier by 10-20 per cent. V. Anjali, a resident of Aminjikarai, said she scouted for stores and supermarkets offering discounts or shopped at fair-price outlets.

“Till a few months ago, I would buy a month’s groceries and supplies at Rs. 3,000. Now, I have to shell out an additional Rs. 1,000 as the cost of everything, from rice and oil to pulses, has shot up,” she said.

Some households have also begun cutting down on consumption or switching to cheaper brands or non-branded items to cope with the spiralling costs.

Chennai gets cooking oils from across the State, including Erode, Kangeyam, Virudhunagar, and also from Gujarat and Kerala. Wholesale merchants in the city said most customers bought branded cooking oils to ensure quality. The prices differed according to quality, a wholesaler said.

“Gingelly oil is the costliest among cooking oils. It was priced at Rs. 190 a litre until five months ago. The shortage of sesame seeds has led to skyrocketing of prices,” said S. Sivakumar, a wholesale oil trader in Aminjikarai. The cost of other oils, including sunflower, is also on the rise. Some customers had resorted to buying less of costly edible oils to tide over the inflation, said Mr. Sivakumar.

Among pulses, the prices of Bengal gram and red gram have increased steadily. Merchants in Sowcarpet are confident prices will fall over the next few days. “We will get new arrivals soon as this is harvest season. The prices will be stable till May,” said merchant Popat B. Jain.

Chennai receives lorry loads of pulses from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Besides price variations in the wholesale and retail markets, rates differ in various localities within city limits too. The recent fuel price hike had indirectly added to the rising prices of pulses due to higher transportation charges, a wholesaler said.

However, some retailers insisted they did not increase prices arbitrarily as that would result in a fall in sales. “Most customers from the middle class hesitate to buy commodities at high prices. We cut down on profit margins to sell them at reasonable rates. That is why many products are cheaper in our area. Also, non-branded items sell better,” said retailer K. Niranjan of Vysarpadi.

Since there is no regulatory mechanism to control prices of essential commodities, the rates widely vary.

While S. Chandresan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Food Grains Merchants Association, said export of some grains must be limited in order to bring down prices, K. Mohan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Vanigar Peramaippu, suggested online trading of essential commodities must be banned.

Pointing to the current practice of traders and agents deciding on prices of pulses and oils in the open market based on demand and yield, Mr. Mohan said the government must form a committee comprising traders, farmers and government representatives to monitor pricing.

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