Montek in eye of storm over Plan panel's poverty estimates

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was in the eye of a storm in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday over the fresh poverty estimates pegging poverty line at Rs 28.65 per capita daily consumption in cities.

New Delhi: Agitated over fresh poverty line figures, members of Parliament on Wednesday directed their ire against Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia with demands that he be removed.

The Plan panel estimates pegging poverty line at Rs 28.65 per capita daily consumption in cities led to uproar in the Lok Sabha and Question Hour was scuttled as the House was adjourned.

As soon as the House assembled for the day, NDA Convenor Sharad Yadav and Prabodh Panda (CPI) were on their feet demanding suspension of the Question Hour for a discussion on latest poverty estimates.

Speaker Meira Kumar said she had disallowed the notices given by Yadav and Panda and called for the Question Hour.

BJP, JD(U) and Shiv Sena members then trooped into the Well raising slogans against the Planning Commission. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also Chairman of the Planning Commission, was present in the House.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the discussion on the General Budget was yet to start and agitating members could raise the issue during the debate.

However, members were unrelenting and continued to raise slogans. Amid din, the Speaker adjourned the House till noon.

When the House met again, an impromptu discussion was allowed during which the members expressed their anger.

"Ahluwalia is away from ground realities. He needs to be removed as every time he speaks, things go wrong. He has never spoken a good thing. No one is agreeing with the latest data," Yadav said.

"Shoot the poor...give them poison...if you want to end poverty like this," he said.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said it was wrong to blame the Plan panel as the Prime Minister himself heads the body.

Asserting that responsibility lay with the government and not the Planning Commission, Swaraj appealed to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who was present in the House, to reject the latest estimates.

Regretting that poverty was not coming down, she alleged that efforts were on to wipe out the poor and not poverty.

Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) said no prudent person could come to the conclusion on the poverty estimates and the whole issue should be reconsidered by the Planning Commission.

He wanted chief ministers of all states to be consulted while deciding price indices.

SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav said people sitting in airconditioned rooms were blurting out figures when reality was that 65 percent of the population was below poverty line without proper electricity and potable water.

Accusing the Plan panel of betraying the country, he said one cannot have even proper snacks for Rs 32 and the Planning Commission wanted people to live in that amount.

V Arun Kumar (Cong) alleged that opposition members were trying to mislead Parliament as the Plan panel has told the Supreme Court that the figures were per capita and not for the whole family. The per family figures are Rs 4,824 for the urban areas and Rs 3,905 for rural areas a month.

T R Baalu (DMK) regretted that the criteria of deciding poverty line has not been fixed so far which was creating problems for state governments in implementing welfare schemes.

"Let the Planning Commission show its inputs to a Parliamentary Committee so that a proper criterion for the BPL could be fixed," he said.

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (RJD) justified members' anger over the issue while Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) said it was a mockery of the poor. He said the House should pass a resolution expressing disagreement over the Plan panel data.

M Thambidurai (AIADMK) said it was time the Planning Commission realised the true gravity of poverty, while Prabodh Panda (CPI) said the proposal was condemnable and the Prime Minister should make a statement in the House.

B Mahtab (BJD) alleged that the Planning Commission was confusing the whole country as a good lawyer who confuses the court when his case is weak.

Baliram (BSP) took a dig at the Commission and said with the latest figures India can now show to the world that there are no poor in the country.

Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) alleged that the Plan panel used "fraudulent methods" to arrive at the latest figures and said with 8 percent inflation, none can survive at Rs 22 a day.

Sharing members' deep concerns, the Speaker said, "we should favour the poor."

She said if members give notice, a detailed discussion could take place on the issue.