The festive season is a time for celebration, but most households are instead tightening their purse strings. The rising cost of fuel as well as unexpected heavy rain in October have driven the price of essential commodities northwards. Onions for instance were retailing at ₹60 per kg while a kg of beans was ₹85 on Friday.
With the academic year restarting and people travelling to work more often, payment of school fees and expenditure on commuting are compounding the problem.
Narayanaswamy, an autorickshaw driver, said his family was forced to cut down their consumption of milk from one litre a day to half a litre and edible oil by half, from four litres to two a month.
“We observed all recent festivals in a very low-key manner, and did not even buy new clothes for the children. But still we are finding it tough to make ends meet,” he said. He’s hoping that the government will revise autorickshaw fares which haven’t been hiked since 2013.
Mallamma, who works as a domestic help, said it has been two weeks since she bought any vegetables apart from onions at home. “We get rice from the ration shop and buy some pulses. Over the last few weeks vegetables prices have become unaffordable,” she said.
Many households have also cut down on their meat consumption. “For nearly two months, we had not cooked meat in our house. There was a time when we cooked meat every Sunday. But today, a kg of mutton now costs over ₹650 and is unaffordable,” said Mamata R., who works in a private firm.
Pratibha, of the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union, said a recent survey of garment workers they conducted after the second wave of the pandemic showed several families had cut down on meals and were having only two meals a day. “The situation has definitely improved since then. But with prices of essentials skyrocketing other forms of rationing have kicked in. People are reducing the consumption of edible oil, milk, vegetables, eggs and meat,” she said.
Middle-class households have cut down on fruits. “Fruits are always considered somewhat as a luxury in households. It has been more than a month since we brought home any fruits or flowers, except for festivals,” said Prasanna L., who works as a lab technician at a private firm in the city.
Public Health expert and nutritionist Sylvia Karpagam said the nutritional situation has been bad in the State ever since the pandemic. The government had not woken up to it despite several cautions by the civil society, she alleged.
“The ICT and PDS programmes were not being satisfactorily implemented in the state. By introducing a ban on cattle slaughter, the government has deceived people of a cheap source of protein. This will have a devastating long-term nutritional impact in the State. Instead of a survey of churches, the government would do good to carry out a nutritional survey to identify gaps and address them before it’s too late,” she said.
(This is the first of a two-part series on how families are coping with the rise in prices of fuel and essential commodities.)