According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) data for 2011-2012 (July-June), the poor in rural areas spend only Rs 17 per day, while those living in cities and towns spend Rs 23 a day. The data also informs us that the bottom five per cent of the population had an average monthly per capita expenditure of Rs 521.44 in rural areas and Rs 700.50 in urban areas. This data reveals the state of the poor and the extent of poverty in the country as also how flawed are this Congress-led UPA government’s claims to have improved the situation for the poor. Last year the Planning Commission had stated that anyone with a daily consumption expenditure of Rs 28.35 and Rs. 22.42 in urban and rural areas respectively were above the poverty line but clearly the real poverty line is far below that established by the planning commission. This line is important because it is linked to the public distribution system, and will also have a bearing on the food security Bill, which is based on this definition of poverty, if the government ever succeeds in converting it into the law. The artificially high poverty line makes nonsense of other government statistics according to which the total number of people below it in the country was 35.46 crore as against 40.72 crore in 2004-05.
The government has claimed that poverty has come down particularly in rural areas, from 32.58 crore five years ago to 27.82 crore last year. It has claimed that the urban BPL number stands at 7.64 crore as against 8.14 crore five years ago. All this is falsified. Thus, the various government poverty alleviation programmes, which continue to suffer from serious gaps as well as large-scale corruption, remain flawed. The scale of continuing poverty in India is despite its economy nudging at a reasonable growth rate in recent years. The extent of poverty highlights what economists call a ‘ticking time bomb.’ The population of India is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2026 by when India will become world’s largest nation in terms of numbers. Yet its economy is not growing fast enough to serve the people or to create the needed millions of jobs per year. The problems of poverty in India are compounded by poor health services, child malnutrition and inadequate education and training and are only likely to be exacerbated unless the government takes corrective measures.