A thali that offers a medley of rice, roti, vegetables and curries is something uniquely Indian. While there are multiple versions of the thali across India, Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian has provided a spicy touch to the latest Economic Survey by including a chapter on 'Thalinomics'. What he has tried to do is map out what a plateful of food would cost across the country-be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
Though there are global indices that use common food products such as the Big Mac index - which was created in 1996 to measure purchasing power parity among nations using the McDonald's Big Mac burger as a benchmark - India has never had such an index before. This could well be the big change.
What Subramanian has done is somewhat similar to the Big Mac index, but at a national level. He has mapped out what a regular thali costs at a regional level and at the state level from 2007/08 to 2019/20.
Thalinomics points out that the higher rate of inflation in vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis during 2019/20 is temporary and should revert back as it has done in earlier years. Inflation for the vegetarian thali at the All-India level fell from the significantly high level of over 10 per cent in 2015/16 to below zero levels in subsequent years. It has risen again in 2019/20, but is much below the 2015/16 levels.
The Economic Survey points out that after 2015-16, the average household gained Rs 10,887 on average per year from the moderation in prices in the case of vegetarian Thali. Similarly, an average household that consumes two non-vegetarian Thalis gained around Rs 11,787 on average per year during the same period.
The report states that "It is found that at the all-India level as well as regional levels, moderation in prices of vegetarian Thali have been witnessed since 2015-16 though Thali prices have increased this year. This is owing to the sharp downward turn in the prices of vegetables and dal in contrast to the previous trend of increasing prices. In terms of the inflation in Thali prices and all the components, we find a distinct declining trend during the period under review. Affordability of Thalis vis-a-vis a day's pay of a worker has improved over time indicating improved welfare of the common person."
It would definitely add value if Thalinomics in future measures the calorific value of the average thali offered across states. That could be an indicator of how well-fed is the average Indian. It's a good start that needs to add more mass and muscle as we go ahead.