Prices of most food items have been continuously rising throughout the two years of Modi’s misrule. This is a continuation of the trend seen under the previous UPA government. And, just as in the case of UPA, these two years have seen periods lasting for up to two months when the retail price of a particular essential commodity zooms up intolerably. Here are some examples:

• Prices of onions sky rocketed during October-November 2014 to more than Rs.100 per kg
• Prices of arhar spiked to Rs.200 per kg in Sept-Nov 2015 before declining somewhat. But even now they are trending upwards and are currently 140% higher than two years ago.
• Prices of potatoes have nearly doubled in the past month this year.
• Prices of sugar have increased by almost two thirds and already crossed the Rs.50 per kilogram mark. This is expected to rise even more.

This is not just a matter of family economics, which can be adjusted by cutting some item. As a consequence of rising prices, consumption of several essential items of food is declining in India. For example the amount of pulses consumed per person has relentlessly declined from about 61 grams per person per day in 1951 to about 42 grams in 2013. This is essential nutrition being snatched away from the mouths of people.

Why is this happening? Ministers of the Modi government have been crowing about the fact that the wholesale price index is running negative – that is prices are actually declining! So why a steady rise with killer spikes as far as the consumer prices are concerned.

There is one simple reason: mismanagement and a desire to allow “market forces” to determine prices. Mismanagement works this way: when the government knew that pulses production had fallen in 2014-15 due to drought, they should have imported pulses and built up stocks. They didn’t do anything and as a result prices started rising. Then they pretended to import some meagre amounts. By that time international prices were sky high and supply was short.

And this is where the governments “freeing the markets” comes in. What it really means is allowing private traders to take advantage of the situation, hoard commodities and jack up prices.For instance, they allowed private traders to import pulses and hold them in their domestic and foreign warehouses so that prices increased beyond belief. Then they started releasing the stock making crores of rupees in super profits.

Further, the Modi Sarkar has done away with Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMCs or wholesale mandis) restrictions in the name of helping farmers. They also initially eased stock holding norms, tightening them again after prices had increased. All this “freedom” was actually meant for big traders and profiteers. It meant low prices for farmers (hence the low wholesale prices) and intolerably high prices for consumers.

It must be noted that all this manipulation of markets and giving big traders a free rein was also done by the previous governments. But the BJP has done it in the most brazen and shameless manner, ignoring the distress caused by the drought and sabotaging other govt. schemes that help people get affordable food.

There is another example of the naked anti-people character of this government. During these very two years, international prices of crude oil have fallen by over 62%. India imports nearly three fourths of its oil. It is estimated that India had saved about Rs.2.14 lakh crore due to falling crude oil prices. So this fall in prices could have well benefitted millions of consumers in the country. But the devious Modi Sarkar had other ideas. They maintained the high prices in Indian market while buying cheaper crude oil from abroad. Excise duty on oil was raised five times in this period. As a result, petrol prices have dipped by only 16 percent and diesel by 13 percent in the past two years. In this way the Modi govt. padded up its accounts while depriving the people of some relief from rising prices.

The Modi government has also completely failed to develop a plan for resolving the food prices crisis in the long term. This can happen only if production of vegetables, pulses and other commodities like oilseeds and sugarcane is boosted through spread of new seeds, techniques, provision of cheaper inputs and water and establishing a mechanism for procurement of these essential produce at minimum support prices for routing to the public distribution system. Only through these measures can production be really boosted ameliorating the perpetual knife’s edge on which India currently stands in terms of a match between a growing demand and insufficient supply. The Modi Sarkar has no such vision and there are darker days ahead.

Prices of Pulses 
Prices (Rs. per kg)
Apr-14 Apr-16 % Increase
Gram 49 67 40%
Tur/arhar 70 137 90%
Urad 67 139 112%
Moong 88 101 14%
Masoor 63 80 32%
Source: Ministry of Consumer Affairs

Price rise of essential food items 28 May 2014 to 28 May 2016
Rice 17%
Atta 10%
Sugar 18%
Milk 33%
Groundnut oil 13%
Tomato 71%
Potato 100%

Source: Dept of Consumer Affairs; National Horticulture Board