The steep hike in the price of domestic cooking gas has poured salt into the wounds of people already struggling to make ends because of the rising cost of living.
After an overnight hike of Rs 50, the public sector oil marketing companies have priced a 14.2kg refill in Kolkata at Rs 1,026.
For many, like Rita Singh, hikes such as these have meant a gruelling return to firewood as the medium of cooking.
The 46-year-old domestic help lives with her husband and son in Narendrapur, on the southern fringes of Kolkata. She works at four houses in Patuli, earning around
Rs 5,000 a month. Her husband paints houses but his income is not fixed.
Two years ago, LPG was the sole cooking medium at her kitchen. Now, everything but rice is made on firewood.
On most days, the meal includes rice, dal and/or a sabzi.
“Even when I make fish or meat, I use firewood. This way, I try to spend three months with two cylinders. Otherwise, it is becoming impossible to survive,” said Singh.
Cooking with wood entails a lot of time, smoke, incessant coughing and breathing problems. But it saves money. She often sources the wood from discarded furniture of employers.
Singh summarised the pincer grip of rising costs.
“Two years ago, my income was more and prices were comparatively lower. Now, the prices of everything have gone up. But the income has come down,” she said.
Before the pandemic, she worked at “around 10 homes”. She earned almost double and was short of time. LPG was the best bet then.
Back then, her husband would go to work at least 15 days a month. Now, the number has come down to barely eight.
Now, Singh walks between home and the station, even under the burning sun, because she can save Rs 20 (Rs 10 two times a day).
Several Kolkatans who have switched to firewood told Metro that the latest hike in prices of LPG only vindicated their stand and there was no question of going back.
Shyamali Dutta, another domestic help living off Swinhoe Lane near Kasba, is one of them.
Her monthly income is also Rs 5,000. Dutta’s husband, an electrician, was hit hard by the pandemic and was yet to get back to his normal working schedule.
Dutta has been using wood and cow dung cakes as cooking fuel though she has an LPG connection. Even six months ago, she had been cooking rice on firewood and the sides with LPG. Now, firewood is almost the sole cooking medium.
“Only tea and an occasional meal for the children is made with cooking gas. It is also used when we have guests and multiple dishes have to be cooked. That way, I can save one cylinder every month,” said Dutta. “Now, with another hike of Rs 50, the decision (not to use LPG) seems inevitable,” she said.
In a family of nine with minimal income, Rs 1,000 a month is a substantial saving.
The family largely depends on the incomes of Dutta and her husband. Her sister-in-law, a widow, works as a domestic help and contributes to the income.
Cooking with firewood takes up a lot of time.
“Setting up the oven takes over 30 minutes. The cooking is extra,” she said.
Apart from a burning sensation in the eyes, the cooking eats up into the time Dutta would otherwise spend with her daughter, a Class II student at a government school.