Poverty debate: Dear politicians, please talk some sense

Updated: Jul 26, 2013, 16:36 PM IST

Rs 12, then Rs 5 and now Rs 1, the poverty debate seems to have proven the aam admi true – that our politicians have lost all touch with reality of the great democracy called India which gives them their stature as rulers of a billion souls.

Haven’t they seen people toil hard to secure two square meals a day or is it the case that they are feigning ignorance of the reality by quoting two-three decade-old prices.

The ugly sparring over a sensitive issue involving the bare survival of millions, for whom living through each day is itself a huge challenge, has made a mockery of the poor.

‘Neta’ log seem to have failed to understand that there unrealistic estimation of the money needed for a stomach has made them a laughing stock.

It seems that a full-fledged competition has begun among the politicians, especially Congress, to quote the minimum possible rate in which one can have a sumptuous meal. Otherwise how can actor-turned politician Raj Babbar, who is also a Congress spokesperson, blatantly claim that it is possible to have a full meal for Rs 12 in Mumbai - without checking the ground reality.

As if it was not enough, Raj Babbar’s colleague and Rajya Sabha MP Rashid Masood added to the unrealistic stew by claiming that one can eat well for Rs 5 in Delhi.

Not to be left behind, veteran politician and the chief of National Conference, Farooq Abdullah, also asserted that one can have a full meal for Rs 1, if desired otherwise even Rs 100 would fall short to satisfy a person’s hunger.

I ask him where in this world one can get a full meal for just Rs Re 1.

Was Abdullah and others mistakenly referring to the Parliament canteen, where they get subsidised food at dirt cheap rates? And, for an instance, let us assume that the above mentioned claims about select areas are correct, then what about the rest of India? Is it possible for those living in Uttam Nagar locality of Delhi to frequent to Jama Masjid daily to get a cheap meal?

The interesting claims being made by these ‘affluent’ politicians will probably compel the Planning Commission, which claims a sharp decline in poverty level in the 2011-12 financial year, to redefine the term poverty in India.

As per the latest figures dished out by the plan panel, the number of people living below the poverty line has shrunk to 21.9% in 2011-12 from 37.2% in 2004-05.

The national poverty line as calculated by using the Tendulkar methodology has put it at Rs 816 per capita per month in villages and Rs 1,000 per capita per month in cities; implying that people who earn more than Rs 33.33 in cities and Rs 27.20 in villages do not fall under the poverty category.

After the Planning Commission declared that poverty in the country has fallen drastically, Congress was quick in claiming that the feat has been achieved due to the record growth witnessed in the first decade of the new millennium after UPA came to power.

With the general election fast approaching, the Congress lost no time in claiming that poverty had come down in the country due to the pro-poor policies of the UPA government. The Congress has stood by the Planning Commission`s finding that poverty had declined significantly during seven years of its rule, arguing that it only pointed to the inclusive growth model of the UPA government.

Congress’ attempt to capitalise on the Planning Commission’s latest estimation of poverty is in the centre of present political storm, as it concerns millions of those who live below the poverty line and who constitute permanent vote banks of political parties of all hues. The estimation of poverty has a direct bearing on who all will be covered under various government welfare schemes.

The central government spends crores of rupees every year on subsidised meals, cheap food grains and other basic amenities for those below the poverty line, so a reduction in poverty would clearly mean benefits to fewer people.

Moreover, if the national growth figures are so encouraging then what is the need for the UPA government to push for the Food Security Bill that aims to cover 67% of India’s population?

And that is why the opposition terms this as a conspiracy against the poor, designed to deprive them of government welfare schemes. The Planning Commission report also raises concerns about the Suresh Tendulkar methodology used for calculating the figures, according to which the decline in poverty is mainly on account of rising real per capita consumption figures.

It is high time for the Congress and other parties to realise the damage such irrational statements can make to their fortunes. The Centre should also appoint a committee to revisit the Tendulkar methodology to assess the correct level of poverty in view of the spiralling inflation, price rise, devaluation of money, food grain projection, population growth et al.

The poor are hanging on, let them survive if not thrive!

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