Poor performance

It is ironic that the state which boasts of spearheading India’s Information Technology revolution and accounts for over 40 per cent of the country’s software exports has a third of its population living below the poverty line. An expert committee set up by the Planning Commission has found that Karnataka is the poorest among the four southern states. The data indicates that of the southern states Karnataka managed to achieve the highest reduction of poverty over a decade, with its headcount ratio of people in the BPL category falling from 49.5 per cent in 1993-94 to 33.4 per cent in 2004-05. While poverty among the rural population has fallen, Karnataka stands first in the south in this category as well. And its performance with regard to tackling urban poverty is far from satisfactory. In fact, Karnataka’s headcount ratio of poverty in urban areas is higher than the national average. Poverty in the state is deep-seated.

The extent of poverty in Karnataka as revealed by the Planning Commission figures is a damning indictment of the policies being adopted and the implementation of poverty alleviation programmes by successive governments in the state. There is much trumpeting regarding the achievements of the state in science and software, its growing number of malls and millionaires. However, these achievements mask a terrible truth. A large section of state’s population is living in conditions of biting poverty. Karnataka’s poverty is akin to that in Rajasthan or Assam.

There are important pointers for policy makers in the figures put out by the Tendulkar committee. Urban poverty is assuming serious proportions. This does not mean that planners should focus more on urban poverty than on the plight in rural India. Rather, the roots of the unfolding poverty in our towns and cities lie in rural desperation. Poverty and unemployment in villages is driving millions to migrate to cities in search of jobs. And there are few jobs on offer in towns, worsening the plight of these people. The government needs to increase opportunities in rural India. That will tackle rural poverty and migration to cities. Our neighbours have done a better job than us in tackling poverty. We need to draw inspiration from Kerala, a state far smaller than Karnataka but better off. What is holding back Karnataka? There state is rich in human and natural resources. There is no reason why it should remain at the bottom of the heap.

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