Plan panel criteria for BPL draw flak

Cong reacts cautiously on suggestion, says Planning Commission affidavit is not final word

Sharply criticised by Opposition and sections of civil society, the ruling Congress on Wednesday reacted cautiously, saying the Planning Commission's affidavit “is not the last word.”

The party expressed readiness to consider all sensitive inputs over the issue while maki­ng a plea not to dismiss de­­cisions on such issues out of hand. “This is certainly not the last word. All positive and sensitive inputs can be looked into. Ev­ery constructive positive element of civil society is entitled to give a positive input. There is no question of taking sensiti­ve inputs lightly,” said Congr­e­ss spokesman Abhishek Sin­g­hvi. He, however, also  said such decisions are taken on the basis of empirical and statistical data and hence they must be left to the judgment of experts.

The commission in an affidavit submitted before the Supreme Court on Tuesday said those spending in excess of Rs 32 a day in the urban areas or Rs 26 a day in villages would no longer be entitled to benefits due to BPL families.

The apex court had asked the commission for clear criteria on who would qualify for subsidised foodgrains from the government. The new BPL criteria were worked out by the Planning Commission and approved by the Prime Minister's Office before the government's affidavit was placed  before the Supreme Court.

In an almost bizarre suggestion, the commission said spending Rs 5.5 on cereals per day “is good enough” to keep people healthy. Another suggestion is that if anyone living in the city spends over Rs 49.10 a month on rent and conveyance, he or she will miss out on the BPL category.

Lack of empathy

Civil rights activist Aruna Roy, a member of the National Advisory Committee headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, has reacted sharply to the document saying “it reflected the lack of government’s lack of empathy for  the poor.”

The affidavit based its assertion on the Suresh Tendulkar Committee that pegged poverty line at Rs 447 a month or about Rs15 a day, at 2004-2005 prices.

The affidavit further said a daily spend of Rs 1.02 on pulses, Rs 2.33 on milk and Rs 1.55 on edible oil should be enough to provide adequate nutrition and keep people above the poverty line without the need of subs­i­dised rations from the government.

It further suggests that just Rs 1.95 on vegetables a day is adequate.
People should be spending less than 44 paise on fruits, 70 paise on sugar, 78 paise on salt and spices and another Rs 1.51 on other foods per day to qualify for the BPL list and entitle for subsidy under various government schemes.

A person spending more than Rs 3.75 per day on fuel to run the kitchen is doing well, as per these figures.

If anyone living in the city is spending over Rs 49.10 a month on rent and conveyance, he or she could miss out on the BPL category.

As for healthcare, Rs 39.70 per month is felt to be sufficient to stay healthy, believes the Planning Commission.

On education, the plan panel feels those spending 99 paise a day or Rs 29.60 a month in cities are doing well enough not to need any help. Similarly, one could be considered to not be poor if he or she spends more than Rs 61.30 a month on clothing, Rs 9.6 on footwear and Rs 28.80 on other personal items.

The below poverty line criteria have come in the backdrop of a long and rising list of ministers and MPs having wealth running into crores of rupees by their own admission.

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