Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Defining Poverty Line A Cruel Joke

Updated: October 13, 2011 10:58 am

It seems that the UPA government is hell-bent on delivering a nasty jolt one after another on the people of the country—be it ever-spiralling price rise of essential commodities, unchecked corruption and scams, galloping inflation, softening stance against terrorism or other issues afflicting the people. Now the present one is the new definition of poverty line. Is a daily expenditure of Rs 32 per head enough to sustain a family of four in a metro city? Country’s top-most planning body, Planning Commission, thinks so. In its affidavit filed recently in the Supreme Court, the Commission, quoting the Tendulkar Committee’s recommendations, stated that any person earning more than Rs 26 a day in rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas would not be eligible for the various anti-poverty schemes by the Centre. Ironically, in the Committee’s poverty-line basket, the allowance for health expenditure is less than one rupee a day—barely enough to buy an asprin. It is obvious that this extremely low-estimated expenditure is a threshold aimed only at artificially reducing the number of persons “below poverty line” so that the government could pat itself on the back. One is deeply perturbed with this gloomy prospect that our economists, assigned for the very task of bringing actual picture to the fore, are missing the target by a big margin. It appears they are not concerned with the actual premise in the first place rather their focus seems to be toeing a pre-conceived notional line to set the statistics correct. This is a lame excuse—how can one afford to get a minimum amount of nutrition required for a family of at least four by the government norm of Rs 26 per head a day in rural areas and Rs 32 per head a day in urban areas? Perhaps our economists have little idea left after being fed on government ration for years that the minimum price at which a kilogram of rice and flour is available at a grocery shop is, at a minimum price, Rs 20 and Rs 16 respectively. A family of four needs one kg of staple food for a one-time meal and a minimum of 2 kg for an average day consumption. Hence, this shows the bankruptcy of thought in Planning Commission. The panel headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia does not know the ground reality in India, specially rural areas, as Ahluwalia and other members of the panel have the US and Europe orientation.

But facts speak for themselves. According to the new international Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), about 645 million people or 55 per cent of India’s population is poor as measured by composite indicator made up of education, health, standard of living and achievement levels. It says that there are more poor people in eight Indian states alone (421 million in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, UP, MP and WB) than in the 26 poorest African countries combined (410 million). On the scale of HDI, India stands at 119 with life expectancy of 64.4 which is lesser than world average of 69.3 years. World Bank estimate shows that half of the children in India exhibit a degree of malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world that of double of sub Saharan African countries. These all show the pathetic condition of grinding poverty in India and rather than covering it up by using stats, experts should use their brain to reduce it. But this government is particularly having no agenda for development—its agenda seems to be Garib Hatao rather than Garibi Hatao. Can Mr Montek Singh live on Rs 32 per day? I know he is a genius but even he cannot do anything because when politicians with vested interest form a core around the puppet Prime Minister, this is what is bound to happen. Come next election, they will prove that they have made India rich in last 10 years. The Government of India is playing with the sentiments of the people who have elected them to the power. It has failed to govern the country with efficiency and ultimately it is now exhibiting its inanity to the world. For, the government seems to be working on the idea, if you cannot bring down the number of people living below poverty line, set the benchmark defining the poor so low that it becomes virtually impossible for someone to live below that level. Likewise, this tactic is in practice in the Planning Commission appearing to project a success story of India’s poverty alleviation. Leaving aside all these statistical jargon, the fact remains that a large number of people in India live in abject poverty and they are not looked after well, if at all, by this government, which is busy with ‘numbers’. There are more than one way to resolve this crisis but at first there has to be a tangible willingness within those in power to make a difference. For this to happen, the government has to come out with a transparent and accountable decision process in arriving at fixing below poverty line as Rs 32 in urban regions and Rs 26 in rural areas. This will restore the faith of the common man in the government and will also prevent miscommunication between the government and the common man.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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