Inflation stats can be deceptive, experiences, however, are real and the experiences of making everyday purchases in a local market are now only going to worsen as the winter has started setting in.
Inflation is the rise in the prices of goods and services over a specific timeframe. India’s retail inflation accelerated to a five-month high of 7.41 percent in September and the wholesale inflation was at 10.7 percent in September and 12.4 percent in August.
Assuming that these inflation percentages are correct and not underestimated, since these are provisional figures, these numbers may make little sense to a layman as to what they actually mean on the ground.
Even if, assuming, these retail and wholesale inflation percentages are correct, these are horrendous numbers for average families who have limited sources of income and fixed amounts to meet their day-to-day essential expenses. While these percentages mean that the average Kashmiri consumer is severely losing the purchasing power, the real worry is that the winter is coming which means a lot of essential shopping to live through the harsh season.
The snowfall in mid-October in the mountains surrounding Kashmir has already signaled an early arrival of the winter and with another forecast of precipitation and snowfall in the first half of November, the situation is going to become bitterly cold on both fronts -weather and expenses.
Meanwhile, the existing reality on the ground is much worse than the percentages of inflation. The cost of living is already exhausting and becoming increasingly unbearable. There is a harsh price rise in all the essential and non-essential commodities. From the price of vegetables and cereals to that of petrol and diesel, everything in the market is available at a record-high cost.
For an average middleclass family, the experience of day-to-day shopping is a nightmarish experience. The increased tax on goods and services – in many cases as high as 18 percent – is further worsening the situation.
While the daily expenses in summers are still limited, the winter months carry their own set of expensive baggage. From spending more on purchase of winter clothing to expenses on traditional and modern heating appliances, the expenses simply skyrocket.
So in such a scenario where there is no reigning in on the rising prices, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir immediately needs to draft and implement measures that can save people from inflation.
While Kashmir’s economy is already in a whirlwind owing to the mismanagement on part of the administration like the unexplainable blockade of trucks exporting apples to markets outside Kashmir which has had devastating impact on local economy, there is a need to act decisively and vigorously.
The administration needs to seek special tax concessions from the union government which can help ease the burden on the common people. The road taxes imposed on the import of essential commodities – like cereals, vegetables, grain and fuel – needs to be urgently relaxed.
Kashmir, during the long winter, becomes a near barren place. In such a situation, dependency on imports grows tremendously to meet the market requirements. The multiple toll taxes paid by trucks to import stocks to Kashmir are placing an immense burden on the consumer. The administration needs to step forward to subsidize the toll taxes during winter months.
While the administration has long followed the practice of fixing wholesale and retail prices, these price lists are no longer followed as they do not match the inflation percentages. The example of the mutton crisis of February 2021 should serve as an eye-opener for the administration.
While the administration failed to implement its price list and had to succumb to the market demand, even the new price list is not being followed.
There is a reason for the mismatch in the expectations and policies of the administration and requirements of the market. The administration, it appears, is living in a bubble of self-made figures and numbers and has developed a disconnect with the people. If the administration attempts to implement its faulty price list, it should know that it will force a closure of the markets and a showdown with traders and dealers, which is exactly what had happened during the mutton crisis.
So, in every sense, it is a catch-22 situation for the administration whether to implement a government-fixed price list that is underrating goods and commodities or to increase the prices. In both ways, it is the common Kashmiri that is going to suffer.
The only way to ease the suffering of the people during winter is to allow tax exemptions and relaxations, at least on the transportation of goods and commodities. This is the only hope to allow the people to live with some degree of comfort through the harsh winter.
The administration, while making its case before the union government for the tax exemptions and relaxation, should take into consideration the harsh climatic conditions and the treacherous connectivity of Srinagar-Jammu highway, which may now face frequent shutdowns.
The markets in Kashmir are already facing a meltdown and the inflation is eating away the savings of the people. With global recession looming over, the situation in future may worsen further.