Published on July 25th 2013 on IBNLive
Raj Babbar, in defense of the poverty figures, said that a full meal is available in Mumbai for 12 rupees. My colleague Shawan went out to find out if this is really possible. By a full meal, I hope Mr Babbar meant, main course – dal/sabzi, chapati and rice, because sadly we found out that the cheapest such full meal comes for Rs 30, which is a little less than the minimum the UPA thinks is enough for survival in a city. While my colleague went out to figure the current rates, I decided to draw from my own experiences of living in penury during the initial days of my journalistic career (dear HR, pls ignore the description :-P). Being a perpetual bargain hunter, here I shall list out the cheapest way of spending a day in Mumbai. But of course, you can’t live on cheap rent in Mumbai, everything else, you may still cut corners with. Even so, Mr Babbar do not rejoice, because the average daily expense, not inclusive of rent, will surely be 100-150 rupees.
So let’s start with the beginning of the day. Of course, you need tea/coffee. The average cycle chai wala sells a 20 ml glass of chai at 5 rupees and coffee at 7 rupees. If you want to have it at a proper stall, chai costs around 7-8 and coffee 10-12. Going by the minimum, say you spent 5 rupees for 2 full sips (that’s how small the glass is) of chai from the cycle chai wala. The average wada pav wala now sells vada pavs for a minimum of 10 rupees. A plate of poha/seviyan upma/rava upma/dharavi idli would also cost around 10 rupees. So you have spent 15 rupees on breakfast already, which is about half the amount, the government thinks you need to survive.
Now unless you sleep on the pavement outside your office, you very likely stay pretty far from your workplace; which means you will either take a bus or a train, considering the minimum rate of autos and taxis would mean that you will completely exhaust your daily limit of 33 rupees. And to give the benefit of doubt to Mr Babbar, lets place ourselves either in a slum in Dharavi (Mahim east) or Kurla. From both stations, going towards CST/Churchgate or Andheri side where you are likely to find work you would spend atleast 10 rupees by train and 20 by bus, so lets take the train, shall we? That’s an expenditure of 25 rupees already. According to the poverty figures, you can have lunch and dinner in the remaining 7 rupees. NOT.
The average thela that sells a full meal, a place frequented by taxi/auto drivers sells a plate for atleast 30 rupees. Most of these are places are just a small table placed on the roadside where people stand and eat. Some of these around BSE and Zaveri Bazar sell biryani/pulao for 25 rupees a plate. A place with creaky chairs and a roof will charge you atleast 50 rupees for a thali. These are those establishments that have come up under empty places under the flyover or just outside railway stations. Everywhere else, the average rate for a thali is 70 bucks. If you are penny pinching and let go of the full meal concept then there are sandwich walas who will give you a simple sandwich for 15 rupees, but we are talking of a full meal here. So by lunch time, one has already spent 55 rupees, a full 22 rupees above the minimum level.
Dinner would cost you another 30 rupees and you might have one more cup of chai in the evening, the commute back home will cost you 10 rupees more. The sum total therefore is around 95 rupees. Beware that this does not include clothes or rent. By Mr Babbar’s standards one would have to sleep only on the pavement because even the smallest kholi in a slum costs you around 3000 per month, which you share with atleast 4 other people. Let’s even assume that one uses only 2 pairs of clothes a month, which one has presumably picked up from the Mahim church Wednesday market or from Kabutarkhana (both places where one gets second hand and sometimes even stolen clothes) for 50 rupees a piece. The average monthly expenditure along with rent therefore is 5950 which translates to 198 rupees a day. Of course, if one lives on the pavement and cuts out on rent, then the average monthly expenditure just for mere survival is 2950 which translates to about 98 rupees a day. This assuming you are only fending for yourself. If you go on a vada pav diet 3 times a day, 30 days a month and live on the pavement, then maybe, just maybe you can live within the poverty line figures.
In fact, wherever this place is, that serves 12 rupee meals would be a boon not just to the poor, but to all of us, because even cooking your own meals has become costly in Mumbai thanks to vegetable prices. So Mr Babbar, please pass along the address of this place, in this shaky economy, even poor journalists like us need to save money in whatever form we can (again, apologies to my HR team, this wasn’t meant for you). However, I have a sneaky suspicion that the honorable MP has perhaps wrongly assumed that the Indian Parliament is located in Mumbai because my Delhi counterparts inform me that is the only place where one can still have a full meal for 12 rupees.