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Vol. XXXIII No. 7, July 16-31, 2023
The last couple of months have been hard on consumers, for the city has been seeing a surge in the price of produce owing to a stock crunch. First, it was the heatwave that restricted the supply of vegetables; then, the recent spate of heavy rainfall in southern states dampened availability. “I cannot remember a time when I bought green chilli for Rs. 200 a kilo at the wholesale market,” exclaims Vijaya, gesturing towards her vegetable cart. “And ginger? A kilo of that costs Rs. 320. I am not able to sell more than half the goods I buy at Koyambedu.” The state meets a significant portion of its demand for produce from neighbouring states, but the supply has thinned. It is said that TN’s own tomato crop, in particular, was badly affected by the downpours. At the time of writing this article, tomatoes cost Rs. 120 a kilo, sambar onions, Rs. 200, carrots Rs. 80 and beans Rs. 110-120. It is to be noted that the increase in prices isn’t endemic to Tamil Nadu – it is a trend that the rest of the country is battling as well. While some vegetables such as ladies fingers and radishes have thankfully seen a price dip since the last week, this has not provided much relief. “Drumstick costs Rs. 300 a kilo, you know – that’s more or less on par with the price of chicken,” informs Vijaya tightly. Eggs have gone up too, she says. A single egg used to cost between Rs. 3.50-Rs.4.50, but it now sells at Rs. 7.
Families are naturally finding it hard to plan nutritious meals. Vijaya says that low-income and vulnerable families unable to withstand the price shock are resorting to purchasing low-quality vegetables which are priced lower. For instance, brinjals of good quality are currently selling for Rs. 80 a kilo but second-quality produce of the same quantity is going for Rs. 60. It is cheaper, but hardly satisfying to the tongue. “I am in the trade, so I buy first-quality stock. But a lot of it goes unsold,” says Vijaya. “I have no choice but to consume it myself – I can’t figure out another way to cut my losses. My sister, however, is buying stale ladies finger and brinjal for her family. It’s all she can afford.” As for restaurants, most eateries are trying to re-organize their menus to avoid the usage of high-priced vegetables. However, it is not a sustainable strategy. If things continue as they are, the rates on their menus are likely to increase.
The administration has stepped in with short-term and long-term interventions to mitigate the situation. Early in July, an official meeting was held at the Secretariat with the State Minister of Co-operatives Mr. K.R. Periyakaruppan at the helm. The outcome was a move to sell tomatoes at subsidised prices below the prevailing rate at 82 fair price shops across the city. Under the aegis of CM M.K. Stalin, TN is also leveraging the Universal PDS system to provide cardholders with toor dal, sugar and other essentials including rice and wheat, which are reportedly distributed free of cost. It is reported that the State Government has floated bids to procure some of the essential commodities in short supply from domestic or foreign producers. However, with costs remaining stubbornly high and at risk of further rise, the CM has reportedly written to the Union Minister of Food and Public Distribution Piyush Goyal, demanding an allocation of 10,000 MT each of wheat and toor dal per month from the central stock.
Unfortunately, erratic weather patterns brought on by climate change are here to stay. The city, nestled along the coastline as it is, is likely to face such crises on a more frequent basis. While the State seems to be doing an admirable job in tackling the current scenario, it is perhaps time to put together a committee or specialized centre to build resilience against such market shocks.