Charting the steep climb of India’s urban consumer price index
Let’s get the definitions out of the way first. The Consumer Price Index for industrial workers in India is compiled by the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Employment. These Consumer Price Indices measure the changes in the level of retail prices of a fixed set of goods and services consumed by an average working class family. The retail prices are collected from 78 cities distributed through practically all states and regions.
These indices are used for fixing the wages and the dearness allowance (a vintage term, used to calibrate a flexible allowance so as to allow salaries to adjust to goods having become more ‘dear’, or expensive) of millions of workers and employees in India. These indices also serve us as important indicators of retail price movement in India.
How are these prices collected and from where? As the Labour Bureau has explained, popularity, amongst customers, is the main criterion for selecting shops. The selection process includes “observation of the shops during peak business hours by a team of field officers of the Labour Bureau and interviews of the local workers”. (It sounds very systematic and thorough but, given the miserly budgets available, I doubt whether the Ministry of Labour is able to afford the people required to do this carefully and regularly; still, it’s the best we have.)
For each item or service, two selected shops and two reserve shops are listed. This is because, if the price of an item (such as wheat flour or jaggery) cannot be collected from the ‘selected shops’, then the prices are collected from the ‘reserve shops’. And if prices cannot be collected even from the ‘reserve shops’ then any other shop in the market will do!
What the detail of the chart above shows is the worm-like crawling, ever upward and steeply, of the 78 individual trendlines of the Consumer Price Indices (for industrial workers). What we see is that from 2009 July, the variation within the band increases, and increases at a rate greater than the period 2006 Jan to 2009 July.
Which are the cities in which the CPI-IW has increased more sharply in the latter period, that is, 2009 September to 2013 March, than in the earlier period, 2006 January to 2009 September? Mumbai and Nashik (Maharashtra), Ahmedabad, Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), Vishakhapatanam (Andhra Pradesh), Vadodara (Gujarat), Salem (Tamil Nadu), Pondicherry, Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), Jalandhar (Punjab), Chandigarh, Surat and Bhavnagar (Gujarat), and Hubli-Dharwad (Karnataka) have all seen steeper increases in the CPI-IW – between 5% and 10% more – in the last three years than in the first three years.
In Rajkot (Gujarat), Durgapur (West Bengal), Ernakulam (Kerala), Madurai (Tamil Nadu), Jamshedpur and Jharia (Jharkhand), Chennai and Tiruchirapally (Tamil Nadu), Ajmer (Rajasthan), Coonoor (Tamil Nadu) and Mysore (Karnataka) the rate of increase in the CPI-IW has been 10% to 20%. And in Quilon and Mundakayam (Kerala) and Haldia (West Bengal) the rate of increase has been more than 20%! Hence we see very clearly that the effects of the 2007-08 global food price spike was experienced by labour and consumers in India’s cities, but that in many of these cities, the food and general inflation over the last three years has been even more severe.