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Sore over trend: Soaring vegetable prices have forced residents to put a ceiling on everyday consumption.
CHENNAI: Onions and tomatoes have been out of the menu at many households in the city for several days now. The skyrocketing prices of the vegetables have pushed many to consider alternative ingredients.
The prices of many vegetables have been unstable from June this year owing to rains across the State and areas from where the city gets its supply.
For many customers, grocery constitutes a major chunk of their monthly budget. V.Sanjay, a resident of Ayanavaram, says: “I have cut down on my purchase of vegetables by half. Yet, I continue to pay double the amount than my usual purchase.”
Though the cost of onions, sold up to a whopping Rs.100 a kg until a few days ago, came down to Rs.45-50 in the wholesale market on Friday, it still continues to be out of the reach for several customers.
The hike in prices is anything but good news for cash-strapped customers such as M.Bharathi, who works as domestic help in Retteri. “I am earning Rs.3,000 a month. I am already burdened with loan and house rent. With the cost of vegetables going beyond my reach, my two children and I are forced to eat kanji (rice porridge) for the past 10 days. I used to spend Rs.200 for a week's supply of vegetables,” she says.
The Koyambedu market receives only half the normal supply of 400 lorries of produce daily. Even cabbage and brinjal priced at Rs.5 a kg and Rs.10 per kg about two months ago in the wholesale market are sold anywhere between Rs.15 and Rs.20 a kg, traders said.
They denied possibilities of hoarding of produce.
As Rajavelu, a hawker in Vadapalani, puts it, “the prices have given an illusion that we charge as much as supermarkets and big grocery shop do. So many of my customers for whom I deliver it at their doorstep now prefer going to supermarkets to check the prices and end up buying there. It has severely hit my business,”
While some fast food stalls with a broad customer base have increased the prices of dishes to strike a balance, for most roadside eatery owners, such a move would mean loss of customers. “Since the prices are fluctuating, we cannot increase the cost of food. Whatever we earn is spent on the vegetables,” says Senthil Sekhar, who runs a roadside eatery.
According to K. Ajith Kumar, proprietor of Hotel Sri Jaya in Egmore, tomatoes could be substituted with tamarind but the use of onion is inevitable. “Initially, we bought the damp onions as it was cheaper. But as it decomposes fast, we have started using onions of good quality.”
Several hotels have either reduced the quantity of onions and other vegetables in dishes or are substituting onions with cabbages. M. Ravi, honorary member of Tamil Nadu Hotels Association, said the hike in fuel and LPG prices has also affected business.
“We have taken removed such as ‘onion dosa' and ‘raitha' that need a large portion of onions and tomatoes from our menu for the past three days.” A decision regarding the changes in cost of dishes would be taken in January, he says.
Onions apart, the increasing cost of tomatoes, which is being sold at Rs.40 a kg in retail market, is also worrying residents and hoteliers.
According to A.Sankaralingam, Special Officer TANFED, the unseasonal rains in Maharashtra and Karnataka, which are the main cultivators of onion, is one of the prime reasons for the soaring prices.
Backyard and kitchen gardens are now coming in handy for a few residents who have substituted ornamental plants with vegetables. S.Hema, a resident of Adyar, says that vegetables such as tomatoes, lady's fingers, greens and chillies that she grows has helped her during such price hike. M.B.Nirmal, founder of Exnora International, suggests the option of terrace garden to tackle the price rise. “Even discarded materials could be used to grow plants. A thousand sq.ft. of space in terrace is sufficient to supply ten days requirement of vegetables for a five-member family,” he adds.
(With inputs from K. Lakshmi, S. Aishwarya and Lavanya M.)
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