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Cost of meals rose by 71% in five years, salaries by just 37%: Data

The average cost of a home-cooked vegetarian thali in Maharashtra increased by 71% in the last five years. At the same time, the average monthly salary earned by a person through regular employment in the State increased by only 37%. While the wages of casual labourers kept pace with the rise in prices, increasing by 67% in the period, it is crucial to note that labourers were already spending a high share of their monthly wages on food.

For this analysis, it has been assumed that an average Indian family will be able to meet their daily dietary needs if they consume food equivalent to two thalis per day, spread across breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Non-vegetarian meals were not considered due to lack of past data. To get commodity prices, Maharashtra was chosen as an exemplar due to the availability of consistent data. The average wages and salaries of workers in Maharashtra were considered for comparison.

To decode how much two thalis cost, on average, in Maharashtra, the ingredients used were identified — white rice, toor dal, onion, garlic, green chilli, ginger, tomato, potato, peas, atta, cabbage, sunflower oil, and salt— and the grams required for two servings were measured. The average retail cost for buying those ingredients in Maharashtra — as of March this year, a year ago (2023), and five years ago (2019) — were collated from the Consumer Affairs Ministry and the National Horticulture Board. For some vegetables, for which data were not available, prices in Mumbai were considered as a proxy.

Table 1 | The table lists the weight of commodities required to prepare two thalis and its retail prices in ₹.

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For instance, the cost of buying 125 grams of toor dal, which is required to make two thalis, increased from ₹9.3 to ₹20.1 in the past five years (Table 1). Similarly, the cost of buying 300 grams of potato increased from ₹6.8 to ₹8.6.

Table 2 | The table shows the costs of a thali in ₹ in March 2024, a year ago, and five years ago.

The average cost of all the ingredients for two thalis in Maharashtra totalled ₹79.2 this year, ₹64.2 last year, and ₹46.2 in 2019 (Table 2). In essence, the cost of making two thalis in a household in Maharashtra every day of a month increased from ₹1,386 in 2019 to ₹2,377 in 2024.

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The daily average wage of an individual in Maharashtra increased from ₹218 a day in 2019 to Rs. 365 a day in 2024. This was then extrapolated for 30 days to arrive at monthly earnings. The average salary of a person in Maharashtra increased from Rs. 17,189 to Rs. 23,549 in the same period.

Table 3 | The table shows the average daily wage of a casual labourer and the average salary of a regular salaried person in urban Maharashtra.

*CWS: Current Weekly Status provides snapshot of a person’s employment during a particular reference week

The cost of making two thalis every day of a month, when considered as a share of wages/salaries, marginally increased from 21.1% of a casual labourer’s monthly earnings in 2019 to 21.7% in 2024. This is assuming that the labourer got paid on all days, including rest days. In the case of regular salaried workers, there was a considerable increase from 8.1% to 10.1% in the same period (Table 4).

Table 4 | The table shows the cost of making two thalis every day for a month as a share of monthly wages/salaries. All figures in %.

As can be seen from Tables 2 and 3, while the cost of making a thali increased by 71% in the past five years, the monthly salary increased by only 37%. As can be seen from Tables 3 and 4, while casual labourers’ wages kept pace with the rise in prices, they were already spending over 20% of their earnings on food, the cost of which also went up marginally.

This disparity between salaries and expenditure means that households with regular salaried people might be cutting back on spending on non-essential items and luxury products. For daily wage-earning households, such spending anyway remained elusive as their expenditure on food was high and has now marginally gone up.

Sruthi Balaji is interning with The Hindu Data Team

Source: Department for Consumer Affairs, National Horticulture Board, Periodic Labour Force Survey, Report in District Level Estimates for the State of Maharashtra

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