Indian Decade

Govt Backtracks on Poverty

India’s government backtracks over controversial planned benchmarks for what constitutes poverty.

India’s government has made yet another U-turn, this time on the issue of estimating poverty. The country’s Planning Commission had initially filed a proposal with the Supreme Court setting the poverty line at an income of 32 rupees (60 cents) a day in urban areas and 26 rupees for rural areas. However, after a national outcry and a challenge by the main opposition party to try to live on a bankers draft for this amount for a single day, the government backtracked and said these figures won’t be used to determine which individuals are eligible for government subsidies and welfare schemes.

The government sparked public outrage and criticism of insensitivity towards the poor with its initial calculations, not least because the United Progressive Alliance government pledged to represent the ‘common man’ when it came to power in 2004.

The rethink was announced at a joint press conference by Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday. They said that the plan panel hadn’t meant to ‘understate poverty,’ claiming the Below Poverty Line figures were merely statistics based on the methodology prescribed by the Suresh Tendulkar Committee.

In addition, Ramesh said no caps would be imposed on the poverty level, and added that his ministry and the Planning Commission would work out a new method of calculating poverty so that no poor household is excluded. He said there was no link between the state-wide poverty estimates and the selection of welfare beneficiaries, and told reporters that a new expert committee would soon ensure that no poor and deprived household is excluded from government assistance.

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‘This is the lowest level,’ he said of the figures. ‘This is not the view of the Planning Commission. It was fixed in 1973. Clearly it is the rock bottom level of existence.’

A joint statement issued by Ramesh and Ahluwalia said the government would take into account multiple dimensions of deprivation based on the indicators that are being collected through the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 for establishing specific entitlements that rural households will receive under various central government programmes.