As prices spiral, India's workers forced to forgo small pleasures

by Annie Banerji | @anniebanerji | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 18 July 2022 10:45 GMT

A tea stall vendor prepares tea for his customers on a pavement in New Delhi, India, June 22, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Annie Banerji

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The inflation diaries: Low and middle-income families cut back as price rises bite, with experts predicting no respite in sight

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI, July 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tuk-tuk driver Rishi Pal was counting down the days until he could take his granddaughter to the Indian village where he grew up, but soaring prices forced a rethink.

From vegetables and rice to cooking gas and detergent, most everyday items in India are becoming more expensive, pushing many Indians to rein in their spending.

"This summer break was the perfect chance. I was going to show her my childhood home, the fields where we used to play, the big mango tree we used to climb ... the village life," said Pal, 62, who comes from northern Uttar Pradesh state.

"But everything has become almost unaffordable in the last few months. This trip would have set us back. Maybe next year," he said, sitting in his tuk-tuk near New Delhi's central business district.

Shoppers have seen prices hit eight-year highs this year, with the central bank warning they will not cool before December.

Sarita Devi, a flower pot vendor, poses for a photo in New Delhi, India, June 22, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Annie Banerji

Food and fuel are the two main sources of inflation in India, largely driven by rising global energy and food costs triggered by the Ukraine war, along with erratic weather which threatens lower crop yields.


The government in May restricted wheat and sugar exports and announced tax cuts to fuel and essential goods to help insulate consumers.

But many people are already struggling to make ends meet and cutting back on everyday items.

Pal said his 12-year-old granddaughter's favourite breakfast of pan-fried flatbread stuffed with eggs had now been replaced with cheaper porridge.

"All of us are working extra hours when we can, mainly so that (my granddaughter) does not need to feel the pinch of inflation," said Pal as a customer approached his tuk-tuk.

"But it's not always possible. It's been difficult."

Rishi Pal, a tuk-tuk driver, poses for a photo in New Delhi, India, June 22, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Annie Banerji

MONSOON RISK

Much also depends on the weather in the coming months. India's monsoon, which takes place roughly from June to September, is crucial for crops and will bring knock-on effects on food prices and wider economic growth.

Rainfalls in June have been below average, threatening to hit agricultural output that could push up living costs still further.

With little to no respite expected until the end of the year, shoe shiner and cobbler Babu Lal said spending cutbacks by many would-be customers were undoing his gradual recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

He said he was earning up to 15,000 rupees ($192) a month in March, but was now making about half of that, leaving him stretched to provide for his wife, two school-going daughters and five grandchildren, despite extra income from his two sons.

"If this keeps on, the government has to do something. They need to loan me money or at least help me rent a (brick-and-mortar) shop to draw more customers," said Lal, 59, as he mended a torn shoe sitting on a pavement.

"Otherwise it will be impossible to survive. I'll have to take on two more jobs at this age."

($1 = 78.2740 Indian rupees)

Explore our interactive map below for more stories about the human impact of the cost of living crisis in our three-part series on The Inflation Diaries

More from Part One of The Inflation Diaries series:

Firewood and no meat: Kenya's cost-of-living crisis bites

Inflation-hit Bangladeshis swap eggs for pulses and ration cards

Burdened with debts, low-income Britons feel pinch as bills surge

South Africans fear rising crime as food costs spike

Haitians choose between school fees or food as costs rise

(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Sonia Elks; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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