Spine-breaking price rise

Greater Kashmir

Let me take you to early nineties era through a nostalgic snippet; a memorable advertisement (ad) of a food product which we enjoyed and used to derive pleasure out of it by watching and listening to it frequently. The one-line jingle of the product ad is even today refusing to go out of our minds. When we come across any such similar food product in the market, the jingle automatically reverberates in our ears.

I am talking about UNCLE CHIPS ad in early nineties with the jingle: bole mere lips I love uncle chips. The melody of the jingle caught on like wildfire  so much so that every little kid, even the young ones and elders back then were singing away to it. The ad branded the potato, considered as poor man’s staple food to new heights beyond being a poor man’s product. Even as consumption of uncle chips got overtaken by some other popular brands, it’s this classic jingle based ad which always reminds us of brand – UNCLE CHIPS. I am sure everybody aware of the emergence of this nostalgic ad would know what an excitement a sack of uncle chips meant then. Today, consumption of potato chips is huge and has established itself as a favorite food product by all age groups. Over a period of time, potatoes didn’t remain confined as poor man’s staple food.

You must be stressing upon yourself why potato ad is being discussed when there are host of sensitive issues confronting us in the pandemic situation which as an extreme health emergency has not only put our survival at stake but has also led to economic disaster. Basically COVID-19 induced hardships for a common man have not ended and everyday it seems a new beginning of adversities. The sufferings on the economic front continue unabated despite several stimulus measures to pull economy back on track. Rising prices of essential commodities and other products is a dangerous phenomenon which is catching up fast signaling further economic worries for households. The rising prices of essential commodities is contrary to the given situation where wage deflation and increasing joblessness have pushed (and continue to push) households into a distress. In fact from the last month (October) the skyrocketing prices of even some basic vegetables like Potato and Onion, essentially known as staple food items of economically poor section, have miserably hit the kitchen budget of households.

Now during this CODIV-19 induced crisis, managing potatoes in their meals has become a big deal for poor and even lower middle class households. Let me reproduce some facts and figures which appeared in a section of media few days back. The average retail prices of all essential food items, except that of wheat, have increased in the past one year with potatoes witnessing the steepest rise of 92%, followed by onions at 44%. A comparative analysis of data by the consumer affairs ministry shows that in average wholesale prices, potato prices have gone up by 108% and onions witnessed an increase of 47% in the past one year.

The uncontrolled price rise witnessed in essential items and kitchen staples is emerging as a major worry for household budgets. Precisely, food items like onions and potatoes are fast getting out of reach for poor and even lower middle class. So the situation suggest whether COVID-19 continues to baffle medical scientists or ends, all is not going to be well with kitchen budgets in the coming times.

Even as government has appreciably taken several steps to give relief to the poor like free distribution of grains to ration card holders, in the continued price inflationary pressure along with wage deflation and increased joblessness, such measures fall short of solving the worries of common households. Notably, the price rise is in essential commodities is always severely damaging in nature as lower strata takes hit on their spine.

It’s noteworthy, while the government had announced a free-food scheme to help migrant workers and poor families during the lockdown period, data submitted by government officials before a parliamentary standing committee suggested that there is a large gap between intended coverage of the scheme and actual beneficiaries on the ground.

Now let’s have a look at rising prices in the local context. Here, the only thing which has not been restored to ‘normal’ is the price rise. In other words, none of us is vocal to resist the skyrocketing of prices, especially food grains and vegetables.

The rise and fall in prices has a lasting effect on the cost of living of the common man. Cost of living is the price of goods and services required for maintaining an average level standard of living and varies from place to place, and is fluctuating  from time to time. It has a direct bearing on the prosperity of an individual.

When the cost of living goes up, social structure of a common man too takes a hit, exposing him more to complexes. As far as essential commodities are concerned, we have two categories. One is the traditional category of essentials and the second constitutes modern living essential. The immediate impact of price rise is that it limits the access of common man only to necessities. Modern living essentials become a luxury for him. While negotiating the situation, a common household engages more and more members of a family.

Normally, the price rise is attributed to the factors like rapid growth of population, increase in incomes, rising non-development expenditure of the government and increase in money supply, on the demand side. And on the supply side inadequacy of agricultural output, inadequacy of industrial output and high-priced imports are listed to price hike. But ours is a place where the hike in prices is not based on this economics. It’s the writ of the supplier which runs, pricing the commodities arbitrarily. We as consumers are left with no option but to pay the illogical prices of the essentials as we have no other option before us.

Precisely, the focus on rising prices is nowhere visible here. This all happens under the nose of authorities and it seems they all have lost the sense of smelling the foul of arbitrarily driven price rise syndrome which is engulfing the common man’s prosperity.

We as consumers too have a unique attitude. We vehemently voice our demand for high quality fuel etc., but act as silent majority to uncontrolled price hike. In this system of economics, we surprisingly expect rules of physics to protect us from price rise. The theory of gravity that anything that goes up is bound to come down is not applicable in this context. Here it’s opposite – whatever goes up, will never come down.

However, the war at least against arbitrary and illogical price rise of essentials needs to be led by government and not the common man. So far, we haven’t seen anything substantial done to pull common people out of the price hike syndrome. Even we haven’t seen any consideration from the concerned authorities over the hardships being faced by a common Kashmiri due to the sharp price hike of essential commodities.

The question remains – who will rescue consumers from the  spine-breaking un-controlled price rise of essential commodities?

Meanwhile, to conclude, let potatoes and onions don’t slip out of hand of poor and lower middle class section as rich man’s food only and remain inexpensive as it used to be in an era of ‘bolay meray lips, I love uncle chips!

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)