The cost of a home-cooked vegetarian thali in Mumbai has increased by 65% in the last five years. At the same time, the average wage earned by a casual labourer working in urban Maharashtra has increased by only 37% and that of a salaried worker has increased by 28%.
This disparity between wages/salaries and expenditure has led to essential food items becoming increasingly unaffordable. Given the fixed food budget in most Indian homes, the imbalance results in smaller thalis or fewer items in the thali leading to increasingly unbalanced or unfulfilling meals.
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 avail commodity prices Mumbai was chosen as an exemplar due to the availability of consistent data. The wages and salaries in urban Maharashtra were considered as Mumbai-specific rates were not available.
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To decode how much two thalis cost, on average, in Mumbai, the ingredients used were identified — white rice, toor dal, onion, garlic, green chilli, ginger, tomato, potato, peas, atta, cabbage, sunflower oil, salt, and rice — and the grams required for two servings were measured. The average retail cost for buying those ingredients in Mumbai — as on August 8 this year, a year ago (2022), three years ago (2020) and five years ago (2018) — were collated from the Consumer Affairs Ministry and the National Horticulture Board.
Table 1 | The table lists the weight of commodities required to prepared 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 ₹13.1 to ₹21.1 in the past five years (Table 1). Similarly the cost of buying 100 grams of tomato increased from ₹5.7 to ₹17. In contrast, the price of 300 grams of potato decreased from ₹12 to ₹8.
Table 2 | The table shows the cost of thali in ₹.
The cost of all the ingredients for two thalis totalled ₹112.6 this year, ₹82 last year, ₹81.4 in 2020, and ₹67.9 in 2018 (Table 2). In essence, the cost of making two thalis in a Mumbai household every day of a month increased from ₹2,037 in 2018 to ₹3,378 in 2023.
Table 3 | The table shows the average daily wage of a casual labourer (other than in public works) and the average salary of a regular salaried employee in urban Maharashtra.
Only the wages/salaries of men in Maharashtra were considered, as the latest labour force participation rate in Mumbai for men was 70.5% while it was 18.8% for women. The daily average wage of men in urban Maharashtra increased from ₹301 a day in 2018 to ₹414 a day in 2023. This was then extrapolated for 30 days to arrive at monthly earnings. The average salary of men in urban Maharashtra increased from ₹20,520 to ₹26,335 in the same period.
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As can be seen from Tables 2 and 3, while the cost of making a thali increased by 65% in the past five years, daily wages increased only by 37% and salaries only by 28%.
Table 4 | The table shows the cost of making two thalis every day for a month as a share of monthly wages/salaries.
The cost of making two thalis every day for a month, when considered as a share of wages/salaries, increased from 22.5% of a casual labourer’s monthly earnings in 2018 to 27.2% in 2023. In the case of those who drew a regular salary, it increased from 9.9% to 12.8% in the same period, as shown in Table 4.
Although thali preparation requires more ingredients, such as spices and ghee, data was only available for the ingredients listed in Table 1. So, in reality, the cost of making a thali would be an even higher share of salaries/wages than what we ascertained in this exercise.
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Source: Department for Consumer Affairs, National Horticulture Board, Periodic Labour Force Survey, Report on District Level Estimates for the State of Maharashtra
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