Poverty figure: Montek admits flaws in assessing method

Planning Panel’s Deputy Chief, Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that a second look can be given to India’s poverty figures based on the Tendulkar Committee.

New Delhi: In the wake of a major uproar over poverty estimates, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia Monday admitted that the method of tabulating the number of poor is "abstract" and said it is being reworked.

Ahluwalia sought to distance himself from the controversial data released last week according to which poverty figures declined to 21.9 percent in 2011-12 from 37.2 percent in 2004-05, saying the figures were based on the assessment of an expert committee.

The current figures are based on the methodology suggested by a committee headed by renowned economist Suresh Tendulkar which factors in spent on health and education besides calorie intake, he said.

"The Tendulkar (committee methodology) numbers show about 22 percent as poor (in the country). I am perfectly willing to agree that, that (poverty) line is a bit low," he told reporters.

About the questions raised over these figures, even within the Congress party, Ahluwalia said, "Kapil (Sibal) has said that the present system is abstract and even we should improve it. Even we agree to that."

The Planning Commission deputy chief said the new methodology being worked upon will be based on the Rangarajan Committee which is expected to submit its report by middle of next.

His statement assumes significance as these poverty figures have led to a major uproar and slammed by all political parties, including UPA constituent NCP.

The Commission used the Suresh Tendulkar Committee's methodology, which factors in spending on health and education besides calorie intake to arrive at a poverty line for cities and villages. Accordingly, the people whose daily consumption of goods and services exceed Rs 33.33 in cities and Rs 27.20 in villages are not poor.

Ahluwalia said, "This is not the Planning Commission's (poverty) line. Poverty line is not drawn by the Planning Commission. It is actually drawn by an expert group. The line you are talking about is a line recommended by the Suresh Tendulkar expert committee."

The criteria for gauging poverty figures was rubbished, not only by opposition parties, but also by some Congress leaders like Kapil Sibal and Digvijay Singh.

Singh said the existing method was too abstract and can't be the same for all areas. He felt that the criteria should be malnourishment in members of family.

He made a strong pitch for linking poverty with malnutrition and anaemia.

His remarks came after Sibal challenged the method used by the Planning Commission to calculate poverty saying a family of five cannot live on Rs 5,000 a month.

"If the Planning Commission said those who live above Rs 5,000 a month are not at poverty line, obviously there is something wrong with the definition of poverty in this country. How can anybody live at Rs 5,000?" he had said in Kolkata.