When India’s food growers cannot afford fuel, light and food
This group of charts describes the trends of two indexes – food, and fuel and light – for agricultural labourers in ten states. The consumer price index (CPI) that is usually invoked by the government, by industry, by the corporate associations (such as chambers of commerce), and by economists and banks is a number for that month considered to be ‘national’.
This has no meaning, for what you and I buy is not at a ‘national’ market but at a local one – we may even buy from a roving street vendor, provided our municipal corporation or council has the sense not to outlaw these vendors (which sadly is discrimination common in metropolitan cities).
A consumer price index, in order to be of any use, must be local, and must relate to those who can set some store by it. That is why it is most useful to look carefully at what CPI includes, and it does include much detail, which this small group of charts helps reveal.
The consumer price index numbers for agricultural and rural labourers (with a base of 100 fixed to the year 1986-87) is calculated by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India. Who are agricultural labourers? The Bureau’s definition is: “Agricultural labour households – the rural labour households, who derive 50 per cent or more of their total income from wage paid manual labour in agricultural activities, are treated as agricultural labour households.”
According to the Bureau, a person is considered an agricultural labourer, if she or he “follows one or more of the following agricultural occupations in the capacity of a labourer on hire, whether paid in cash or kind or partly in cash and partly in kind” and the occupations are: farming including cultivation, growing and harvesting of any agricultural commodity; production, cultivation, growing and harvesting of any horticultural commodity; dairy farming; raising of livestock, bee-keeping or poultry farming; any practice performed on a farm “incidental to or in conjunction with the farm operations” (this includes forestry, market-related activities such as delivery and storage, and the actual movement of produce to markets).
The collection of rural retail prices every month from shops and markets is done by the Field Operations Division of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). In 20 states it collects data from 600 representative sample villages every month, with one-fourth of the sample being covered every week. Prices are collected either on a market day (which is most commonly a set day of the week) for those villages that do not have daily markets, or on any day for those that do.
And here we have – for Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, West Bengal and Bihar, ten of India’s most populous states – the proof of how much India’s growers of food are burdened by the rising price of fuel and light (that means of electricity and power, diesel, kerosene and coal) and of food (cultivators and food growers also buy what they do not grow or husband).