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Price Rise and Poverty
by Dr. Rajinder Puri Bookmark and Share

On top of galloping inflation, with even food prices soaring to unprecedented height, the government thought it fit to hike the already high prices of petrol and diesel. This was done before the assembly elections in several states. Why is the government deliberately committing hara-kiri? Or are there elements in the ruling party that wish to destroy their own government? Or are there instead corrupt elements raking in maximum loot while in power in the belief that they will never be re-elected? The people cannot be blamed for indulging in such wild speculation. The energy price hike just does not make political sense.

In terms of petrol prices related to purchasing power India has about the highest retail price in the whole world. Among the major powers China has the highest petrol price. India now boasts of more than two and a half times the petrol price in China! Government officials and apologists defend the hike by pointing out economic compulsions that cry for more revenue. Are there no other avenues for augmenting revenue in an administration reeking with conspicuous consumption and shameless waste? Are there no possibilities of extracting revenue from the very rich by making them tighten their belts? This isn’t socialist ranting. It is a wake up call to the government to recognize ground realities.

Even the middle class is complaining about unacceptable prices that curtail its daily bread. It just can’t make two ends meet. So the middle class complains. What about the very poor, especially the rural poor who lack even the luxury of getting their complaints heard. What might they do? Politics is about empathy. Do our worthy ministers ever try to sense what the poor must be feeling? Do even mainstream media attempt to empathize with their condition? One would like to recall a recent incident in Maharashtra to highlight the desperate state of the poor.

Recently the Maharashtra government broke from tradition to allow appointments to Class IV posts. Its forest department recently announced 1,175 guard jobs open for recruitment in the Maharashtra forest department. More than hundred times the number of applicants responded! The physical criteria for the job were a 25-km run for men and a 14-km run for women. Of the 9,500 aspirants who applied for just 85 posts many collapsed during the run. Eight were hospitalized. One 23-year old died in the attempt. Incidents of candidates collapsing were reported from other cities too. What level of desperation must have impelled these applicants to literally run themselves to the ground, even to death, just to get a job?

These are not a class of people whose complaints would be heard by authority. Nor do they have the means to organize violent protest. Ah, but the Maoists do! Home Minister Chidambaram has described the Maoists as the biggest security threat to the nation. Given official insensitivity should the rise of Maoism surprise? What is the government doing about that? Improving the police force is not enough. The government must start empathizing with the poor. For a start it must begin recognizing what the price rise really means in the daily life of a poor family. Otherwise the government will not only commit suicide. It will imperil the future of democracy in India.

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Comments on this Article

Comment I am sad for the young 23-year old who lost his life. I would hope the Maharashtra government administered health examination to see if all the applicants were physically fit to run the length of distance. Poverty and unemployment have made our youth lethargic and a physical wreck.

The author has very rightly blamed the government for the galloping inflation and now the rising prices of petrol and diesel. The educated middle and upper class tend to look at the government as one big factor when an ordinary citizen finds basic needs out of his reach. But, when you ask an ordinary citizen the reason for ever rising prices of commodities of daily consumption and use, he would blame the retailer. More often than not the retailers all across India are the self-possessed greedy lot. And, in the corrupt environment, a high cost of running a retail business may never allow him to behave otherwise. Besides, there is no one to guide him as to how to price his merchandize. There are little or no studies or surveys on retail businesses. The community service and nation building is never part of the business. If the retailer has sincere concern for his community he would work little harder to find ways to obtain merchandize for less and pass on the savings to customers in his community. He can form union with other retailers and force the government to release the grains rotting in unprotected godowns. It's the people; they have to think about themselves. And, once they have learnt to live together helping each other as a society, they would form good government that would make society function well for the well-being of the whole country. The irony of fate is that the people don't know what and how they want; the government knows!

Prem Sareen
09/22/2011 11:52 AM

Comment The party that has governed for 85% of the time at the Centre and more than that in the states is now beyond redemption.
No explanation of any kind, on any of the burning issues of today or even general statements are forthcoming.
No discerning person will understand/ can explain the complete lack of governance in UPA-1 and UPA-2, especially the arrogance of the ruling class.
The root causes remain the undefined concepts of "socialism"and "secularism".
Any reading of Nani Palkivala's books exposes us immediately to the anguish, even despair, that he must have felt when he was surrounded by rank scoundrels in parliament.
There is a complete disconnect between the courage, belief, simplicity and directness of common Indians and the cringing cowardice of the "leaders"of the dynastic party.

09/20/2011 05:45 AM

Comment I think the message to the government is assuming that those politicians are at mistake but their intentions are good !!!!!

Is this the case ?

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
09/20/2011 05:05 AM

Comment government has no ears. people are imbasile. until people come on the street, from every street ans corner of the country, manmohan singh will not rise to occassion. remember Cornwell of england.

pranlal sheth
09/19/2011 21:30 PM

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