By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
The planning commission of India is set to change the poverty estimates in India after the latest survey done by National Sample Survey Organization 2010-11. According to new estimates, anyone who is earning below Rs 66.10 per day in urban areas and rupees 35.10 per day in the rural areas will be considered person Below Poverty Line. Such poverty estimates do not provide any justice to the cause of elimination of poverty which endemic in India. The planning in India is suffering a complete paralysis at the moment and does not seem to take in to account to gross social inequalities in our society. Nearly six month ago the planning commission had shocked the nation by giving its own definition of BPL line as the one who were earning Rs 28.65 in the urban areas and Rs 22.42 in the urban areas.
There are some more disturbing facts if we see the data produced before us by the Times of India on April 29th, 2012 that 60% of India’s population is below the poverty line if we take into account their daily consumption figures. This estimate of BPL people comes from the estimated consumptions they are doing as per the average pattern of their states which vary from state to state. The Tendulkar Committee report which was the focal point of our planning commission itself is now giving the poverty estimates to around 37% instead of below 30%. Though, these statistics were always challenged by those working on hunger and food issues. It is another matter that several years back the government’s own committee presided over by noted economist Mr. Arjun Sen Gupta put the poverty estimates to a more than 75%. His reports concluded that most of the Indian under this category were unable to earn even half a dollar a day which is about Rs 20 a day. If we go by this argument which seems more pragmatic then there are question marks over our growth story. But let us first examine the simple fact of Rs 20/- a day which is one fifth of the average minimum wage in the country. It clearly indicates that the government programmes have not reached the poor and at majority of places people are not getting the minimum wages for their work. The question must be asked as where our planning is and its service delivery model. All those earning less than Rs 20/- a day means either they have no work to do or their work does not fetch them the minimum wages, which violate the basic principle of justice.
It is ironical that when our middle classes are shouting at the top of their voices being crushed under the burden of inflation, our poverty estimates do not seems to take the issue if inflation seriously. It makes a mockery of the process of understanding poverty. Can’t Indian planner and economists come out with a simple analysis of how much a normal man or family need to feed itself satisfactorily today taking into account the inflation and other insecurities of life?
It seems the government is fighting the poverty battle at two fronts. One keeping in mind the 2014 general elections and the other is satisfying the international agencies like World Bank and European Union that the poverty has reduced. In their zeal to reduce poverty, the planning commission babus are playing with data and bringing fictitious figures to the fore that does not care for impact assessment of the current situation.
The average daily consumption data has also exploded the myth of South states as ‘developed’ one. The fact that there is 64% rural and 69% urban poverty in Andhra Pradesh compare to 63% rural and 70% urban poverty in Uttar Pradesh shows that the cow belt has not done that bad. In fact, Bihar, which is considered to be worst, is better than many of these southern states with 61% rural and 66% urban poverty. Was the south boom just an inflated story to bring more business for the rich? It does seem so that South’s rich castes have continued with their hold in social-political and economic lives. They were the first to jump on the bandwagon of the globalization with active support of the political masters. Hence we saw boom of private enterprises in the South. The software industry grew up in a few cities, while property boom, high ways, mining, hotels as well as huge temples became the hall mark of South’s growth story. Of course, private engineering colleges and medical institutions also grew in the south keeping the north particularly central and north east India into imbalance. Even the health minister Mr Gulam Nabi Azad mentioned in a speech yesterday that over 80% medical colleges are based in South and that is a gross inequality. The problem is that in these so called institutions of excellence the number of north Indians is also growing. The rural poor of South particularly belonging to Dalits, OBC communities find it difficult to get admission into these institutions unless there is a strong quota for them. So, the gap has increased multifold in the south then in the north. A recent report from United States suggested that over 43% Indian students coming there hail from Andhra Pradesh but at the same point of time it need to be find out which communities are they from? That will puncture the great south boom story. Yes, the feudal castes in South have grown more powerful than in the north where they are on the decline politically as well as socially. The land holdings in Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar are considerably low but in the Southern states they remain stronger and benami land is still higher. The big difference between the north and south seems to be that in the South the hold of the powerful castes on power structure and in public life is stronger.
India’s poverty is politics. It is politics of antipathy towards the marginalized. It is a shame that even after 65 years of our independence we have not been able to provide safe drinking water, housing, electricity and schooling to our children. Is there any need for the government to spend so much money on finding estimates? Why can’t government make it compulsory for everyone to have food, schoolings, free medication? Why so much of spending and expert opinions as who is poor and who is not? Is not it hypocrisy as we still consider a person earning around Rs 65 per day as above the poverty line? Is not it a joke and are we not making a mockery of our own estimates. The proposed food security bill must not divide the people and target every one. The focus should be on total growth and attempt should be made that none remain hungry, without medication and without schooling. There is nothing in these estimates except that a few economists can get good sum for their work. The reduction of poverty line will not resolve the crisis of poverty in India. Our government institutions must be made accountable for their work. Poverty will never go as long as we continue to mint money in the name of poverty. Let us be a society which cares and work for the people rather than make joke of their miseries. India needs to be a civilized nation and not a civilization of enjoying the poverty of people and using it for its own political purposes.