Abdul Latheef Naha

Price spiral forces many families to alter their diet pattern in Malappuram district

Malappuram: Life is an ordeal for a large number of ordinary people in the district with the increasing prices of essential commodities. With the price spiral affecting families in the lower tier of society, many are forced to change their diet pattern.

Although the price rise here is relatively less when compared to other parts of the State, it has had a direct impact on thousands of families who depend on daily wages for a living.

The average increase in the price of rice is around Rs.3.5 a kg.

The people here prefer ‘Kuruva’ rice and its variants to other popular varieties such as ‘Jaya’ and ‘Matta’. Kuruva rice is currently sold at prices ranging from Rs.16 to Rs. 18 a kg. Last year, it was sold for Rs.14 or Rs.15.

‘No big impact’

“If we take the price of Kuruva as an index, then we have not suffered as much a price increase as projected in the media,” says Shuhaib K., managing partner of Three Star Trading Company, a firm that does wholesale and retail grocery business in major towns in the district.

The rice variety ‘1001’, second only to Kuruva and popular among ordinary people, is now available for Rs.15-16 a kg. Last April, it was sold for Rs.13-14.

The ‘Matta’ rice also witnessed an increase of Rs.3 a kg. Shops in Malappuram towns currently sell good quality Matta for Rs.18. Last year, its price was Rs.15 a kg.

However, Mr. Shuhaib’s argument finds few buyers in the district.

“Our budgets have gone up tremendously, and we are looking for ways to reduce household expenses. If it is so hard for us, imagine how severe and unmerciful it is for the poor,” says Rahmat Habeeba, wife of an MLA from the district.

M.K. Hasan, who works as a private security guard and whose 10-member household spends about Rs.4,000 a month on victuals, says he was forced to cut down his budget. “Some of the essentials have now become luxuries,” he says.

Some items spared

The price spiral has spared few items.

The prices of coriander and salt have shot up greatly. Coriander is sold at Rs.70 a kg as against Rs.35 last year. Iodised salt costs Rs.7 a kg and the non-iodised variety Rs.5. There is an increase of Rs.2 in salt prices, which is about 40 per cent.

Coconut oil is sold for Rs.60 a litre as against Rs.50 last year. The price of sugar has increased from Rs.13.50 last year to Rs.16.

The prices of vegetables, meat, fish and milk too have begun to drain the purse of the common man. Tomato costs Rs.20 now against Rs.10 last year; ladies finger Rs.14 (Rs.10); and small onion Rs.20 (Rs.14). However, the prices of plantain, banana, chilly, potato, and large onion witnessed no major change.

Many fish varieties are unaffordable for the common man with seer fish being sold for Rs.300 a kg and pomfret Rs.250. Beef too costs Rs.80 a kg in the district. The price of chicken has increased to Rs.90 a kg.

Not to offend consumers, some manufacturers have reduced the quantity. For example, a 500-gm sachet of a soap powder that cost Rs.10 last year is currently available in 400-gm sachet for the same price. “The reduction in quantity is hardly noticed by consumers,” says P. Moideenkutty, proprietor of Manu Store at Valiyaparamba.

K. Pocker, a fruit dealer at Kottakkal, says the increase in fruit prices has not affected the buying pattern of the people.

However, other shop owners do not agree. While Mr. Shuhaib’s business dipped 20 per cent, Mr. Moideenkutty has suffered a 30 per cent slump.

Close monitoring

The district administration says it is vigilant against any malpractices or extortion by retailers. “We have increased surprise checks to prevent hoarding,” says District Collector M.C. Mohandas.

He said a monitoring committee would soon be convened to step up vigil against malpractices. Inspection of ration shops too had been increased. Mr. Mohandas said special attention was being paid to make available foodstuff to tribal colonies in the district.