Poverty of heart

The disparity vindicates Amartya Sen's stand that there should be targeted spending on social sectors like education and health.

The definition of poverty line given by the Planning Commission has always created a storm. The latest data released by the Commission on July 23 claims that there is a huge fall of approximately 17 crores in the number of poor from 2004-05 to 2012-13. The Commission has raised poverty line by around Re 1. Thus, anyone earning Rs 27.20 and Rs 33.33 per day in rural and urban areas respectively is not poor. The Commission has arrived at this conclusion on the basis of Tendulkar methodology which is itself questionable and that is why the government has set up another committee headed by C Rangarajan which is likely to submit its report by mid 2014.

After the data released by the commission created an uproar, it clarified that it is the absolute povery which has been taken into account. Raj Babbar even claimed that one can have full meals in Rs 12 in Mumbai. Leaving him behind, Rashid Masood said that it would cost Rs 5 in the Jama Masjid area of Delhi. Going a step further, Farooq Abdullah chipped in that one can have it in even Re 1. As expected, these leaders withdrew their statements after the hue and cry and slammed the media for distorting their remarks. Luckily, several Congress leaders have also faulted the criteria adopted by the commission.

In 2011, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that the poverty line for the urban and rural areas could be respectively placed at Rs 32 and Rs 26 per capita per day respectively. The affidavit has befuddled everyone but commission’s deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia commented that an unnecessary hue and cry was being made as Rs 32 was meant for one person. Thus, in a family of five adults, it worked out to Rs. 160, which, according to him, was not a meagre amount. The affidavit said, “If the Tendulkar (committee) poverty ratio is applied to the projected population of the registrar general of India as on March 1, 2005, the total population would be 40.74 crore.”

However, the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown, the claims of the Planning commission notwithstanding. This is the finding of the consumption expenditure survey done by National Sample Survey Organisation. The stark findings emerge from a comparison of data on household spending patterns for 1999-2000 and 1011-12. It simply means that the high GDP growth achieved during most of this period could not trickle down to the lowliest. This vindicates Amartya Sen’s stand that there should be targeted spending on social sectors like education and health and that the GDP is not the true index of inclusive development.

Inefficient and corrupt

The problem began in 1993 when the universal Public Distribution System (PDS) was converted into the Targeted PDS. The commission set up to look into the functioning of the PDS under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court judge, D P Wadhwa, in its report has lambasted the whole system saying that the entire mechanism of procurement and distribution of food grains was built on the corrupt practices that denied food grains to the poor. It says that the PDS is ‘inefficient and corrupt,’ plagued by black marketing and diversion involving a “vicious cartel of bureaucrats, fair price shop owners, and middlemen”. Debunking the whole system, it says that the Rs 28,000 crore subsidy spent by the Union government was being pocketed by vested interests.

According to the Planning Commission, the number of poor is 22 per cent but 67 per cent people are covered under the Food Security bill. This itself conclusively proves that the 22 per cent figure is deceptive. Actually, wrong yardsticks have been used to show that the percentage of poverty has come down from 37 to 22. According to the new data, the poor constitute 6 and 10 per cent in Delhi and Mumbai respectively whereas slums constitute 53 and 30 per cent. It is inscrutable how does the Planning Commission release such ridiculous figures which always create avoidable controversy.

 In 2011, after the commission filed the affidavit in the Supreme Court, Aruna Roy had challenged Montek Singh Ahluwallia to live on Rs 32 per day. Disparity is growing. Article 39 of the Constitution mandates that the government will try to minimise the inequality in income. But it is growing. Mahatma Gandhi had written to the Governor-General in 1930 that while the British prime minister got 90 times the per capita income of Britain as his salary, the Viceroy got 5,000 times of the per capita income of an Indian.

The Sixth Pay Commission greatly enhanced the salaries of government employees trying to bring on par with the private sector to a considerable extent. Even among its own employees, huge disparity was created between Pay band 3 and Pay Band 4. Even if a family consists of five members and all of them earn as the commission estimates, the income of a family in a village comes to Rs 4,080 per month. Compare this figure with the salary of a class IV employee in the government who gets around Rs 20,000 at the time of joining, besides other facilities like medical cover, LTC, etc.

The issue of poverty has to be tackled more sensibly with compassion. Average per capita income is grossly misleading when disparities are so glaring. While the number of billionaires is growing, the country should not be oblivious of the flip side-- the growing inequality.

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