April’s retail inflation data flattered to deceive. The Consumer Price Index (CPI)-based provisional headline print shows year-on-year retail price gains, across the broad spectrum of goods and services that combine to constitute the CPI, slowed fractionally to a 11-month low of 4.83%, from March’s 4.85%. This slowing, however, did little to mask the more disconcerting acceleration in food price gains. Inflation based on the Consumer Food Price Index (CFPI) quickened by 18 basis points from the preceding month’s year-on-year pace to a four-month high of 8.7%, with the month-on-month rate accelerating to 0.74%, from 0.16% in March. Rural consumers fared worse than their urban counterparts with both food and broader headline inflation reflecting faster price gains. The CPI-based reading for the hinterland was still well above the 5% mark at 5.43%, while inflation in urban areas was a sharply lower 4.11%, reflecting the widening divergence in the impact that price gains are having on those already struggling from the hit to the rural economy from a weak monsoon last year and sizzling temperatures this summer. Food price gains at 8.75% for rural consumers, a good 19 basis points faster than the 8.56% faced by urban consumers, is all the more disconcerting as food is an essential expenditure that every household must try and find the means to meet.

The pressure on food prices remains wide-ranging, with cereals — the heaviest weight in the food category — witnessing a 26 basis points quickening in inflation to 8.63%. Data from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Price Monitoring Division shows the average price of rice was 14.3% steeper as on May 14 than on May 14, 2023. And the price of wheat was 6.4% higher from a year earlier, signalling that respite on the cereals front is unlikely in the near term. April’s soaring temperatures also kept inflation in vegetables, particularly vulnerable as perishable produce, in double digits for a sixth straight month at 27.8%. Price gains in pulses too offered little succour as they extended their stay in double digits to an eleventh month. And the Consumer Affairs department’s data show prices of all the five key dals — gram, tur, urad, moong and masoor — continued to rise appreciably as on May 14. With live water storage at the country’s 150 reservoirs dwindling to 27% of capacity as on May 9 and trailing both the year-earlier and 10-year average levels significantly, the outlook for price stability rides almost entirely on the forecast ‘normal monsoon’ delivering spatially and temporally well-distributed rains in the coming months.

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