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Going Up? What Everyone Is Missing About Inflation!

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Hari Batti from the Green Light Dhaba writes a guest post at Youth Ki Awaaz

inflation in india“It’s the traders,” says the CPI (M).

“Blame the government,” say the business page columnists.

“Blame Congress,” says the BJP.

“It’s the states,” says the Minister of Agriculture.

“My ma’am says it’s corruption,” the DU student standing next to me on the bus tells her friend.

“It’s the Commonwealth Games,” says the Delhi autowalla, though he concedes a moment later that prices are rising in the villages as well.

It seems that everyone is talking about inflation these days, which isn’t surprising, since rising prices affect us all.  And with overall food inflation running at something like 20 percent, there’s a lot to talk about.

Nearly everyone has their own theory for why this happening. Most of the explanations I’ve heard are partly right– but they all downplay one very important factor: at it’s root, this round of inflation has been made possible by an environmental crisis that only stands to get worse in coming years. And if we don’t do something soon to address it, we will be in very deep trouble.

Today I’m here to tell you simply why this is happening, and what needs to be done. That sounds easier than it is, because inflation, and the statistics we to measure it, are actually tricky beasts. I thought I’d try to be funny AND simple at the same time, but I just couldn’t manage that.  Inflation is NOT funny!  But hold on tight, and I think you will find it’s not as boring as you thought either.

I’m not going to go into all the ways economists and reporters try to measure inflation and how all those methods are flawed. That’s not needed.  But a little terminology is helpful.  Sometimes the papers report something called a “wholesale price index” or WPI, which attempts to measure changes in the prices wholesalers pay. Sometimes the papers report the “consumer price index” or CPI, which attempts to measure changes in the prices “typical” consumers pay for the goods they buy in the retail market.

Whether you look at CPI or WPI actually matters for several reasons. One is the fact that the WPI puts less statistical weight on food prices than the CPI. And since everyone knows food prices are what has been going up recently (as opposed to fuel prices, which have remained mostly flat over the past year), inflation doesn’t look so bad when you look at the WPI.  You can learn more about this in an article in The Hindu, here.But the important thing to note is that, when it comes to inflation, numbers can be deceiving.

Inflation is tricky for another reason: it can be caused by a great number of things, many of which you cannot see!  If the government prints too much money, for example, inflation will happen. If foreign investors pull their money out of a country’s economy suddenly, the value of that country’s currency will fall and inflation will result, because it will take more local currency to buy things (like oil) on the international market. These monetary factors are important in some instances, but they are not the primary cause of our most recent round price rises.

Inflation can also happen when the price of key commodities rises. A spike in the price of ipods or toaster ovens is unlikely to affect other prices, but a jump in food prices affects the whole economy, because everyone needs to eat. If a lot of workers get raises to compensate for higher food prices, that puts upward pressure on the price of the goods and services those workers produce.  On the other hand, if workers don’t get raises, they will cut back on their own consumption of things other than food, which will depress economic activity.

A rise in oil and energy prices will also affect almost everything else. This is because so much of our economy depends on oil. For example, making and transporting fertilizer is energy intensive, so more costly energy prices will affect food prices at their source. Similarly, the cost of manufactured goods jump when oil prices rise because most factories run on oil. Of course transportation costs also rise with oil prices, because it takes diesel fuel to haul food and other goods all over the country.

As noted above, fuel prices have been mostly flat for the last year; they are not the cause of our current inflation.  But our growing dependence on fossil fuels to run our economy means that when oil prices rise again, as we know they will, we will see nasty, persistent inflation, just as we did in 2008, before the world market collapsed and international oil prices plunged. (If we aren’t careful, we will also see a drop in agricultural output, as farmers will find it more and more difficult to buy the fertilizers they have become dependent on–but let’s save that discussion for another day).

So if fuel and energy prices aren’t to blame for the inflation we are seeing now, why have food prices risen so much recently?  In fact, it’s a combination of things: middlemen continue to manipulate the food distribution system at the expense of farmers and consumers; speculative traders are almost certainly holding back food stuffs in anticipation of higher prices later; and the central and state governments have not been as effective as they should be in getting food stored in better years into the market.

But underlying all these things is something else: our agricultural production has been hit hard this year by extreme weather. Most analysts predict an 8-10%  decline in foodgrain production this year, provided the rabi crop is the same as last year’s.

Everyone knows this, and almost everyone mentions it in passing–how could they not?  We all know that our rains were horrible this year, and then there was widespread flooding in the south. But weather tends to find itself above criticism, and who wants to let the bad guys off the hook because they couldn’t manage one poor harvest?

The critics of both private traders and government are right: a healthy food storage and distribution system should be able to absorb a downturn in food production…for a year or two…or even five!  Unfortunately, extreme weather is exactly what we can expect to happen more and more often as the earth’s climate changes.  And no matter how efficient our food storage and distribution system is, it won’t solve the problem of long term drop in agricultural output. This dynamic is something we detailed at the Green Light Dhaba way back in October in “The 10,000 Year Flood and Other Fairy Tales: a realistic look at India’s extreme weather.”

So what needs to be done? I don’t have all the answers, but it should be obvious that we need to take our long-term food security more seriously.  If we don’t, we may be find ourselves worrying about a word that is considerably uglier than inflation: famine.

We can start by taking the billion dollars or more that we are currently spending on our space program and using it for more useful things. India doesn’t really need a base on the moon or a space ship for space tourists.We need to point our best brains in other directions: the search for sustainable energy sources and agriculture that is drought and flood resistant. Without power or farms, what good is a ticket to the moon? It won’t pump our water; it won’t feed our families.

Of course we need to clean up our existing food storage and distribution systems. That will be a a very big, complicated job. In Delhi, we are spending a huge amount of energy and money on the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Is that effort distracting us from more important things? Maybe we need to rethink our priorities. While we’re at it, we should reconsider our military spending.

Yes, our armed forces need to be able to defend our borders and protect us from terrorism; but we need to de-prioritize big budget programs like nuclear weapons and high-tech bombers, since, as I’ve said before, these programs are more about national pride than national protection.

Finally, we need to shame the US and other European countries into taking meaningful action on climate change. Copenhagen was a fiasco, in part because our leadership’s main priority was to maintain cozy relationships with the West while protecting our right to business-as-usual development. That approach won’t work.

With rising fuel prices and more frequent extreme weather in the long range forecast (not to mention falling water tables and melting glaciers), food security will be the biggest challenge India faces in the coming decades.  We cannot afford to wait for a famine to figure this out.  It’s time we face facts and get to work.

Hari Batti writes for the  Green Light Dhaba, which serves up fresh green thinking every Tuesday and Thursday from Delhi. Hari Batti says, “If we’re not pissing someone off, we’re not doing our job. Come join us sometime! Talk is cheap and we’re a dhaba, so there is plenty to go around.”

Drop in a comment below or mail us at, you can also tweet us at @YouthKiAwaaz.

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  1. Raghavendra Singh Dutta

    Great stuff! Loved it 😀

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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