ByÂ P.V. Swati:
The latest poverty estimates released by the Planning Commission showed India almost doubled the pace at which it reduced poverty in the five years to 2009-10, thus moving 52 million people above the poverty line. However, the Planning Commission’s new poverty estimates draw the poverty line for rural India at Rs. 22.40 per day and Rs. 28.60 for urban India. This invited sharp criticism from several entities. Opposition parties in Parliament of course were first to point out that the numbers were far removed from reality.
Congress’s Aruna Vundavalli however, sought to defend the government by invoking the pro-poor credentials of Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. The loud declamation made Sonia wince while the Opposition responded to Vundavalli’s aggression by asking whether the government did own up to the poverty line. Vundavalli argued that the panel has calculated the calories needed by an adult every day.
Apart from the opposition, the Planning Commission’s claim that poverty has declined in the country by 7.3 per cent was also criticised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). AIDWA rejected Planning Commissions repeated efforts to obfuscate data so as to justify the exclusion of large number of the poor and deny them the benefits of anti-poverty and welfare schemes. According to the affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court in September, 2011 were around Rs. 26 per person per day (rural) and Rs. 32 per person per day (urban) have now suddenly been brought down to Rs. 22 and Rs. 28. This is sheer statistical jugglery to show a significant decrease in poverty.
Stung by criticism over the methodology used to measure the number of poor in India, the government has now found a convenient scapegoat, the late Suresh Tendulkar. But, Union Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia did later admit that that income distribution was not at the desired level and inequality increased in both rural and urban areas.
Now two years after the expert group headed by Tendulkar submitted its report on the new methodology to be followed for poverty estimates, the government on 22nd March decided to abandon the formula and announced that a technical committee will draw up a new one consistent with “ground realities”.
Minister of state for planning Ashwini Kumar, who made the announcement about the formation of a new committee, did not give details. It will be headed by a “suitable person” and would be set up “very soon”, he said.
Kumar said a decision to revise the methodology had been taken in December on a request by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While the country has made rapid economic progress in the last several years and the sharp edges of poverty have been substantially blunted as a result of various government schemes, poverty estimates need to be reviewed from time to time with reference to the basic needs of the people, Kumar said.
The figures were a nasty joke at the expense of the poor and did not reflect the urban and rural realities of India. The figures released by the Planning Commission should be immediately retracted and rights of the impoverished sections should be safeguarded, rather than determined by these faulty numbers.