Millennium Post

Defining the poor

That the Planning Commission has decided to review the existing methodology to determine the number of poor in the country is a wise move. The poverty line is an important economic benchmark used to identify economic disadvantage and to identify individuals and households in need of assistence and aid. It is thus a crucial tool of economic policy-making and should not be played around with easily. The Planning Commission had accepted a recommendation, that it has blamed as emanating from the Tendulkar Committee report, which had the effect of altering the threshold at which poverty is officially recognised in this country. It just shifted the goalposts and the criteria for determining the poverty line and pegged it lower than earlier. It is of interest that according to an affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court in September 2011, the poverty line was determined at Rs 26 per person per day in rural areas and at Rs 32 per person per day in urban areas. These figures were revised suddenly and brought down to Rs 22 and Rs 28. This is sheer statistical jugglery and playing with figures. The effect of lowering the income criteria for defining poor from the previous Rs 32 per day mark to Rs 28 is to drag millions of people out of poverty on paper. This is too obviously a sleigh of hand that portrays a relatively rosy picture of human well-being in India and reflects well on the performance of the government.

It is on the basis of these flawed figures that the Planning Commission claimed that the proportion of below poverty line persons had gone down by seven per cent between 2004-05 to 2009-10. This gives a false impression that India almost doubled the pace at which it reduced poverty in these five years thus moving 52 million people above the poverty line. The reality is far more stark, with people struggling to make ends meet. It is clearly difficult for a person to live a life of dignity in both urban and rural areas and to meet needs of clothing, food, medical facilities and other necessities within the amounts suggested by the Planning Commission. It must therefore revise the poverty line to more realistic levels so that the people of India do not feel cheated.
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