Immediate gains but long term losses
By Kamala Balachandran
06th December 2012 11:47 PM
My domestic help buys her children bread and bhel regularly. She works in four houses and is hence perpetually short on time which is one reason why she opts for the ready-to-eat food. The second reason is that with barely a few rupees in hand, she cannot afford to buy oil, vegetables and grains and cook three meals a day. I have tried explaining to her, in vain, that processed food was not only less sumptuous and less nutritive than home cooked food; it was also costlier.
The cap on subsidised LPG cylinders that a family can avail in a year has been subject of heated debate. Since India meets bulk of its petroleum requirements through imports, there is no denying that enforced reduction in consumption is one of the ways by which this burden on the exchequer can be lessened.
On the other hand it is also true that the hefty amount to be paid for the additional cylinder would be the proverbial last straw to break the poor man’s back, which is already bent to the limits by the rising food prices. In addition, one foresees a far greater long term loss to the country if LPG were to become a rationed commodity.
A recent report by the World Bank says that India ranks second in the world in malnutrition among children. The report adds that malnutrition is not restricted to rural India. Urban India too, where employment opportunities and earnings are far better, contributes in equal measure to this sorry situation.
The report only authenticates what is there to see all around. Malnutrition is reflected on the faces of children, the domestic help and many other daily wage workers. These people are malnourished and underfed quite simply because their income has lost the race to inflation. As the money available buys fewer vegetables and grains, the food put in the plates has also diminished, both in weight and in value.
With the various raw materials necessary to make a decent meal becoming harder to buy, sourcing ready-to-eat food from hotels and bakeries is already seen by the urban, economically weaker families and the middle class, as an option.
If in addition to the high price of various basic ingredients for cooking, the fuel too were to become a precious, use-with-care commodity, it would be curtains for home-cooking. A cap on LPG will surely make home cooked food, a luxury of the well-to-do class. With street food and junk items becoming the staple diet of those who cannot afford any other, ill-health and malnutrition would spread to larger sections of our population. All the gain that the government may achieve in terms of foreign exchange cannot offset this loss.
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