Already battered by rising prices of essentials ranging from fruits and vegetables to edible oil and electricity, record high rates of cooking gas LPG have added to the woes of the common man, especially the lower strata.
LPG rates this week were hiked by Rs 50 per 14.2-kg cylinder, taking the total increase in last one year to Rs 244 or 30 per cent.
Non-subsidised LPG -- the price that all households except the poor women beneficiaries of the Ujjwala scheme pay, is now at Rs 1,053 per 14.2 kg cylinder. Ujjwala beneficiaries have to pay Rs 853.
"LPG is smokeless but still it is bringing us tears," rued M Mallika, a 38-year-old homemaker in Tenali town of Andhra Pradesh.
"In three months, the price has increased by Rs 150 per cylinder without taxes and overall it is about Rs 160. A cylinder is now Rs 1,075 (in Andhra Pradesh). It is certainly a heavy burden," she said.
Fuel rates vary from state to state depending on the incidence of local taxes such as VAT.
The increase in prices has particularly affected the lower income group such as housemaids, drivers, security guards, daily wagers, salesmen and waiters who earn between Rs 10,000 to 15,000 per month. The cooking fuel bill alone is around 10 per cent of their earnings.
"It's quite difficult for us to afford cooking gas cylinders these days. Every month the price of domestic gas cylinders is hiked, making our home budget bill even more difficult to balance... we are looking at alternate ways of cooking...maybe solar, maybe something else," said Nupur Dasgupta, an SBI employee and resident of Kolkata's Golpark area.
Swapna Mukherjee, a homemaker in Dumdum in Kolkata, said she was thinking of using a kerosene stove alongside cooking gas stoves to keep a check on her monthly expenses.
"Our monthly expenses have gone up drastically and it is becoming tough. We require two gas cylinders in one month, but I think we will surrender one connection and start using kerosene again," she said.
Parki Mehra (40), a private school teacher from Ambala in Haryana, said the price hike of domestic LPG cylinders has impacted middle-class families like hers. The mother of two school-going children says her family has cut down on expenses on other non-essential items to manage the household budget.
Sandeep Kumar (38) from Hisar, who is employed in the private sector, said prices of fuel, cooking oil and other essential items were already high, and the increase in LPG rates has further added to the problems of the common people.
The father of two school-going girls said the government should reduce LPG cylinder and fuel prices to provide some relief to people.
Ajay Kumar (45), a Chandigarh resident who lost his private job last year amid the pandemic, says inflation has badly impacted the public.
Kumar said he has been looking for a job and is currently supporting his family from his savings. At such a time, when prices of essential items like LPG cylinders rise, managing things becomes difficult. The government should provide some relief to common people and LPG and fuel prices should be cut, he said.
Another housewife S Prabhavati pointed out that the LPG cylinder price has shot up by Rs 500 in the last two years.
"They have abnormally increased the rate but giving us paltry sums of Rs 18, Rs 15, Rs 3 back in the name of subsidy. Every time we buy a refill, we are paying Rs 53 extra now," she lamented.
According to Andhra Pradesh's Civil Supplies Department statistics, there are 1.43 crore LPG consumers in the state. The price per cylinder has gone up to Rs 1,103 in some places in Andhra Pradesh (based on local taxes).
Consumers point out that the price of a 14.5-kg cylinder went up from Rs 614 in June 2020 to Rs 857 in June 2021 and Rs 1,089 now.
"Already, we have been paying Rs 1,060 per cylinder on delivery. It includes a Rs 40 tip to the delivery person. The cylinder's current cost is Rs 1,018.50 but it is rounded off always to Rs 1,020.
"Now, with a Rs 50 hike, we need to shell out more. The LPG price rise will lead to cyclical developments and the food cost is only one among them," said G Ganesan, a resident of suburban Chennai.
A self-employed man, he said the continuing trend of increase in the price of goods and services, including those related to mobile phone and internet use, has been causing hardship to the common man.
Just a week back, domestic LPG cylinder was priced at Rs 1,055 and now the government has hiked the rate again. After slashing the fuel prices slightly, the central government has increased the LPG prices, said S Vandana, a housewife.
She also wondered as to why the commercial gas cylinder prices were being decreased.
Cooking gas prices have risen on eight occasions in the last one year. International oil and gas prices have soared on fears of supply disruptions after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Rates have fallen in recent days on talks of recession in the world's largest oil consumer, the US.
In May, the government cut excise duty on petrol by Rs 8 per litre and diesel by Rs 6 per litre to cool soaring inflation.
At that time, the government also stated that Rs 200 per cylinder subsidy on cooking gas will be limited to only 9 crore poor women and other beneficiaries who got free connections under the Ujjwala scheme. The remaining users, including households, will pay the market price (also known as non-subsidised rate).
Originally, non-subsidised cooking gas was the one that consumers used to buy after exhausting their quota of 12 cylinders at subsidised or below-market rates. However, the government stopped paying subsidy on LPG to most households in mid-2020.
India relies on overseas purchases to meet about 85 per cent of its oil requirement, making it one of the most vulnerable in Asia to higher oil prices. While India has surplus oil refining capacity, it does not manufacture enough LPG to meet domestic demand and imports significant quantities from nations such as Saudi Arabia.