As an extension of a December 2015 order which stopped non-vegetarian food in under 90 minute duration flights, Air India will not serve non-vegetarian food to passengers in the economy class as part of its cost cutting measures with immediate effect for domestic flights. The move is seen as one of the many cost cutting measures adopted by the company facing a debt of around Rs 55,000 crore. However, non-vegetarian food will continue to be served for passengers in the business and first class category.
Non-vegetarian food for economy class passengers aboard Air India’s domestic flights will now be a thing of the past. Air India (AI) chairman and managing director Aswani Lohani said that turning the national carrier vegetarian is only to reduce both wastage and cost. He added it will be wrong to call it a ban, as Air India has stopped serving non-vegetarian food in the economy class, the authority had stopped it for flights under 90 minutes duration. This will now be spread to all flights.
Meanwhile other private carrier have long stopped serving food to the passengers, except on payment only to cut down the cost of ticket fare, a move which has enabled the masses to fly.
This time AI will be serving only vegetarian food on all domestic flights, but exempting the passengers in the business and first class has clearly created a divide along economic lines. If it is only to cover-up and not to be tagged as saffronizing the National Carrier as Hindu transporters, the damage has already been done.
Unless the vegetarian food is indeed cheaper in the National capital, then such cost cutting will be fruitful, while here in the North Eastern region, Meghalaya in particular vegetarian food is much more expensive compared to Non-vegetarian food. It is also accepted that almost all vegetables are being imported for Meghalaya, hence its cost. In spite of this there is opposition against the railways project for the 45 years old state.
The common grievances for the domestic tourists visiting Meghalaya are lack of vegetarian eateries in both the state capital and all tourist spots. While there are a few establishments in the state capital which exclusively serve vegetarian meals, the price of these meals is not at all affordable for both the locals and the tourists who have a set budget.
It is indeed strange how the AI authorities felt that serving non-vegetarian meals is expensive or is a total wastage, as the preference of the passengers are already listed as vegetarian or non-vegetarian while booking the ticket.
Of course, the common citizens are expecting the cost of essential commodities to drop with the recent Goods and Services Tax (GST) implementation. At present where the common man daily source of protein in India being Dal or pulses, the popular phrases of having just Dal-bhat (Lentils – rice) symbolises the economically weaker section of the society have change drastically, as lately, the spiralling rise in the prices of pulses, due to late arrival of new crops affected by rain, the government’s failure to import the essential commodity at the appropriate time to meet the demand, coupled with hoarders and black marketers has pinched every pocket in India as pulses constitute most staple meals here.
As the housewives in greater India are battling with the high cost of onions, yet another essential ingredient of the Indian dining table during the festive seasons, the skyrocketing prices of pulses have thrown the monthly budgeting out of gear, especially for the salaried community. It is a similar situation especially for leafy vegetables.
According to a study, India, the world’s second most populous country, with a population of over 1.25 billion has around 500 million vegetarians with an equal number of who are occasional vegetarians according to religious practices. India is home to more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined—roughly half a billion people. This is mostly driven by class and religious systems. Unlike Western religions where practitioners claim to hold ‘dominion’ over animals, most religious paths in India hold vegetarianism as an ideal. The principal of ahimsa applies to animals—a term meaning to do no harm. It is closely connected with the notion that all kinds of violence produce negative karmic reactions.
Vegetarianism is so ingrained in Indian society that there are laws requiring all packaged products to be labelled with a mandatory mark showing if the product is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. In some regions the slaughter of cattle is prohibited, for instance if you slaughter a cow in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh you could be jailed for up to seven-years. Now even Maharashtra, followed by Rajasthan has banned beef in their respective states.
In Meghalaya, the situation is no different where the price of common dal is about Rs 180 per kg, while the poultry chicken (dressed chicken) is costing about Rs 145 per kg. It may be noted here that in Meghalaya too the number of vegetarians is also high, while many families cannot afford to have non-vegetarian meals on daily basis and are as such also dependent on dal as a part of their daily meals.
Dal is not the only essential commodity which is disappearing from the daily meal of the economically weaker section of society in Meghalaya, so also in the case of Ktung- the dry fish, which was considered as a poor man’s meal is now only found on the dining tables of the affluent, even as the price of this item (ktung) is ever on the rise, making it unaffordable for the common people. Hence it is feared that if the situation of dal is also seen with regard to dry fish and soon the common man will have to make do with rice and a pinch of salt.
The main factor for such imbalances of price for this daily source of protein is not only because of the havoc created by rainfall, but is also due to lesser production in the country of almost every essential commodity due to the migration of the rural population to urban sectors. Farming is now an obsolete profession amongst the youth and over dependence on imported products has raised all the rates.
The state government needs to take a lesson or two, or understand how serving vegetarian food can be termed as cost cutting.