How poor are we Indians?
A woman on Punjab- Rajasthan border puts down her child , who is thirsty and malnourished . She goes to fetch water n heat and sun. When she comes back she finds her child dead.—a news item appeared in current news papers and everyone glances through it with a pinch in heart. To me this is not just an isolated event but most tragic indicator of poverty in India. Also these bring in a flash back the image of poverty as shown of a woman by Attenborough in film Gandhi when Gandhi watches a female, hardly able to cover her body in extreme cold, is washing clothes. Gandhi quietly removes his own shawl and places in the running water that takes the cloth to the woman. This was an act of piety and not campaign to remove poverty.
In those days after freedom it was only left to Dr Ram Manohar Lohia to raise the question of earning percapita and poverty in the Parliament of India. But this too died with the acrimonious debate between him and Nehru.
Right from the day in 1916 Gandhi was moved by poverty to this day when children are dying for thirst or hunger, we have not been able to remove poverty completely. Indira Gandhi surely raised a strong political slogan of ‘Garibi hatao’ that Hindi satirist Sharad Joshi converted to his wit writing of hilarious nature leaving serious action against poverty to mockery. He said the word Hatao means a command to you to remove it , it is like a policeman telling a vendor on road Rehri hatao.
Welfare scheme of course continued to be honed to reach the poor and we continued to march ahead like tortoise and sometime just distributing money like Manrega, that created temporary work and daily payment which frequently was fallacious entries in the register of payment without real work.
Modi pursued the question of poverty and development with great vigor. Economists chased him with their theory but Modi had experienced poverty and he knew that problems do not lie in macro sphere only but also Microsphere. Poverty, economists think, can be reduced by accelerating development as its fruits will get distributed automatically in course of time. Now GDP, the yardstick of eco development itself, remained controversial yard stick. A paper by former Economic Adviser Subrmaniam puts it that the calculations by government are more rosy than the real facts. The method of Government changed from 2016 that showed the growth at 8.2 .The author a former economist with government who himself was involved in calculation now shows that the estimate methodology is wrong and to correct it would take it to only 4.4 %. This is scandalous as he himself was involved in Government that changed it and it is claimed that it more accurate than the earlier one. International agencies like IMF or World Bank and UN have accepted the new one .
One need not find politics in this as the period researched from 2011 to 16 covers both the UPA and NDA governments. But as Swaminathan(TOI) says his estimate of 4.5% growth in this period is also a disaster. While looking at Economists’ data one need not ignore the empirical picture which many time gives more realistic situation than the dry as dust statistics. It could be called smell factor or asI am fond of describing this as feel factor. In management I call this as perception pictures.Take these two .
Feel factor 1- I shifted from delhi to a remote village of Himachal and I used to hear a lot about rural poverty I think it would mean lack of capacity to have enough food or clothing and house etc. In last five year we see houses, toilets, gas connection and what not in the village where I did not experience it earlier. As mostly Truck drivers are around in the village we had seen trucks but now I see in every other house an addition of a Maruti or Scorpio automobile also. Once I asked the headman to bring a poor man for interview as I wanted to write about a poor man but they could not find one.
Feel factor 2- I am waiting for train to Himachal on Delhi station. I ask a large group who donot appear from the state too waiting. They tell me that they go every year for crop cutting Ropar where a zamindar employs them. Here are laborers from far off Bihar moving for daily wage to north. meet a lot of labour from Bihar who are living in huts and in deprived conditions. They work and are certainly poor in my estimation.
I do not know where the statistics of poverty will show us what we are but certainly data is illusory as a lot of money is hidden and also a lot of human tragedy cannot be reduced to figures. Poverty like Brahaman is known and unknown.
By Prof. NK Singh
(The writer is International Management Adviser)