The price of a 14.2kg domestic LPG cylinder was around Rs 840 a year ago. Now, it costs around Rs 1,080 in Kolkata, after the latest hike of Rs 50.
People already reeling from inflation said the latest hike only sprinkled salt on the wounds already inflicted on them. The inflation hurts more because of the hit their earnings took after the Covid curbs.
The Telegraph spoke to three such people.
Subrata Saha, businessman
Saha, 64, lives with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and a three-year-old grandson in north Kolkata’s Girish Park. Before the pandemic, he had a thriving car rental business. He owned four cars. Over the past two years, he has been forced to sell two of them.
His son lost his regular job with a multinational travel company during the pandemic. He has found a new job in the same sector, but with a lesser pay.
Saha’s monthly income from renting the cars is around Rs 30,000. His fixed expenses every month include Rs 15,000 salary to a driver and Rs 9,000 EMI on one car. A portion of the balance amount is gobbled up by maintenance of the cars. The rest he contributes towards the family expenses.
His family needs one cylinder every month. Sometimes, one every 25 days.
“My son slogs day in and out to run the family. At times, I feel embarrassed because I am unable to help him enough,” said Saha.
The kitchen budget is where the family has been trying to cut costs.
“Earlier, we would buy a kilo of mutton on a Sunday. Now, it has come down to 500g for all of us. More than the meat, it is the smell of meat,” Saha said.
Apart from cooking gas, the price of edible oil is also burning a hole in their pockets.
The Sahas are fond of travelling.Thanks to his son’s earlier job, they had been to several places.
In 2017, they went to Bangkok. That has been their last trip.
“Tourism is a distant dream now,” said Saha.
Bina Dhara, domestic help
A resident of Sonarpur on the city’s southern fringes, she cooks at three flats inside a housing complex near Kamalgazi. Her monthly income is Rs 6,500. Her son works at a shop in Ballygunge in south Kolkata and earns around Rs 9,000 a month.
She lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and six-year old grandson in their own house.
Before the pandemic, LPG was the sole cooking medium in her house. But gradually, the shift to firewood is prominent.
Earlier, she needed a cylinder every three weeks. Now, it is stretched to a month, sometimes slightly more, thanks to intermittent use of firewood.
“We make rice with firewood because rice takes up a lot of cooking gas. Earlier, we would cook rice with firewood once in a while. Now, it has become an everyday affair,” she said.
Cooking with wood entails a lot of time, smoke, incessant coughing but it saves money. “At the moment, that is all that I need,” she said.
The average menu used to have two items — dal and a subzi, or dal and fish. Now, it is just one. Dal or subzi or fish, with an occasional chokha or bhaji.
To save more, Dhara stopped taking autos to Kamalgazi while going to work. On most days, her husband drops her to work by cycle. She either takes an auto while returning or walks home. It takes her about an hour.
Dhara's hard-earned savings were exhausted as her daughter got married this year. Loan from a bank is “out of reach” for her. She borrowed “around Rs 1 lakh” from private lenders and has to pay Rs 5,000 every month to repay the loan.
“I used to work at more homes before the pandemic. Now, the earning has gone down and the expenditure has gone up,” said Dhara.
Biswajit Paul, works in real estate
Paul works in the sales team of a real estate firm. The sole earning member of his family, he earns a little over Rs 20,000 every month.
The family of four — his parents and wife — needs two cylinders every three months.
Medicines for his parents and EMI for his bike and some electronic appliances comprise his fixed expenses every month. He lives in his family home in Behala in southwest Kolkata.
“I wish I could shift to an alternative mode of cooking like firewood,” Paul told this newspaper.
His petrol expenses — for work-related travel — are around Rs 4,000 every month.
For the past year, he has been struggling to find new ways to cut costs.
He has discontinued insurance policies, “almost stopped” going to restaurants and “totally stopped” going on trips.
Familiar kitchen curtailments are already in place.
“But even then, I am struggling to make ends meet,” he said.
Paul used to work with a food aggregator but was forced to leave the job as the “pay was shrinking and fuel expenses rising”.
When he made a fresh start, he hoped things would gradually ease out. There was a glimmer of hope as the prices — of chicken, veggies and oil — went down marginally.
“But the hike in LPG cylinders has brought me back where I was,” he said.