High food prices

There is no shortage of bad news for those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The Utility Stores Corporation has increased the price of certain foodstuffs by over 20 per cent, citing the damage done to the agricultural sector by the floods as the reason.

The prices of oil, ghee, pulses and gram flour have all been raised. The cost of wheat flour, too, is witnessing a gradual increase. The price hike effectively neutralises the Ramazan package announced by the USC earlier in the month, bringing the prices of many items at par with those in the open market. The USC has defended the price increase, saying that food supplies had stopped coming in because a number of warehouses had been damaged. Observers, however, have dismissed this plea on the grounds that the impact of the floods on the operations of the USC is at best minimal. According to the stores’ own spokesman dry items were purchased in March or April. Market watchers have said that few of the corporation’s warehouses faced serious damage from the floods.

In an age of spiralling inflation — especially rising food costs — the common man will be hit hard. We must ask if this is just the beginning of a series of nasty shocks for the low-income consumer. Though far from perfect, the utility stores are a lifeline for those with limited means. Subsidies might not be ideal but they may be required in the short term to at least soften the crushing impact of food inflation on society’s most vulnerable segments. Hence the government needs to take corrective measures so that essential items can be bought at affordable rates at the stores. Announcing ‘packages’ and then withdrawing their benefits a few days later is no less than a cruel joke.