Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 03:24:51

To Ask For More

Updated: October 17, 2015 6:30 am

The proof of poverty is when a person is virtually starving. The question arises about the reason for the person not having access to food. The core reason is due to the lack of food supply

When Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist asked for more food, it was promptly refused. Oliver was poor and worse, he was an orphan. We are assailed by a question in this context. Why are the poor often refused help? What makes a person poor? Can the plight of the poverty stricken be alleviated? Strangely enough, the solutions are within the chapter of poverty.

Poverty is traditionally measured on two factors: income and availability of food. To calculate food consumption a standard measure is calculated by way of a basket of nutritional essentials. The estimated monetary income required to purchase the basket of essentials sets the parameters of the level of poverty. These parameters are judged by the food required, shelter and health-care which are factored into the calculations. To rationalise poverty in India we are blessed with an authority in economics who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998, for his profound insight into poverty in India. This personality, Prof. Amartya Sen, presented a lucid and realistic perspective which was read and accepted by the intelligentsia of the world. For Sen development is all about people’s capabilities. He has emphasised that freedom is the vital link to a person’s capability. He asserts that the purpose of development is to enrich human lives, not to enrich the economy, that is only part of the role of development. But when Sen’s capability approach is defined many people will be disappointed. The reason is because this approach reveals social, personal and psychological dimensions of development. We equate GDP growth as the yardstick of natural progress. But Sen has articulated that it is always people who are both the means and the end of development. In fact capability approach has emerged as a model for progress. It recognises an individual’s difficulty pertaining to age, sex, race, health, intelligence, and access to education. These factors explain the importance of the well being of people which will impact people and progress.


The proof of poverty is when a person is virtually starving. The question arises about the reason for the person not having access to food. The core reason is due to the lack of food supply. Apart from the food factor we need to analyse another component; the system of ownership directly related to a person’s entitlement for income. An all important factor which will influence poverty. A person’s ownership bundle includes their resources. If they have land to cultivate they need labour. If the person does not own land they either search for employment or sell available assets and the money earned will enable purchase of essentials. They are impacted by rising prices too, such as recent rise in prices of onions. A landless person works for a wage; the share-cropper does the cultivation and thus owns a part of the produce. What happens in a calamity, like drought? If there is a decline in the produce the owner may discontinue employing landless labour who can then be jobless. In contrast the share-cropper will receive less produce. However, the share-cropper will not be deprived of income. A farmer owning land can be confronted with a sharp decline in the produce because of drought, which will also reduce their income. This has resulted in consequences where farmers have committed suicide as reported in recent times. Remember the farmer or person who cultivates is affected by the entitlement principle depending on the output of his produce. His alternative source of food availability is dependent on the market or economy. A peasant who grows his requirement on a small plot of land can be deprived of food if there is a crop failure due to a calamity. His direct entitlement will fail, so will his food availability fail because he may not have the resources to buy food grain and essentials from the market.

How do we eradicate starvation and poverty? A renewed focus on the entitlement system highlights two factors: social security with allowances payable to poverty stricken categories of people, a regulated system of food distribution and the most crucial factor of all, guaranteed employment at wages that permit them to purchase food and essentials with a roof over their heads. As Sen explains that ‘the law is between food availability and food entitlement even though starvation deaths can still occur.’

By Deepak Rikhye

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