Ending poverty or removing poor?

Updated: Mar 24, 2012, 20:15 PM IST

Sushmita Dutta

Rs six for a cup of tea, Rs ten to commute in a bus, Rs ten to buy a kilo of potatoes…Left with Rs two to get through the entire day and take care of a family of four people. Oh! Forgot to add another 65 paise, which if it can be spent would be simply miraculous. No...Don’t be surprised. I am not cracking a joke - it’s the Planning Commission of India, which is saying so.

The Panel has estimated that the poverty ratio has dipped to 29.8 percent in 2009-10, down from 37.2 percent in 2004-05. The Planning Commission has prepared this report based on the daily per capita consumption of Rs 28.65 in urban cities and Rs 22.42 in rural areas.

The Commission just took a major step towards making the country poverty free. The Panel’s calculation basically means that if a person is earning more than Rs 859.60 per month in a city or Rs 672.80 in the countryside, then they will not be counted as poor (considering the poverty line report prepared by the Planning Commission). The Commission has also said that with the above mentioned figures, poverty in India has diminished by 7.3% between 2004-05 and 2009-10.

So the crux of the matter is that since most of everyone is spending more than Rs 28.65, there are lesser number of poor in our country. Is that definition correct, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission)?

I remember how the country witnessed a similar outcry when the Panel in an affidavit to the Supreme Court last year had said that people spending more than Rs 32 per day on food in urban areas and Rs 26 in rural areas were not poor.

The government is acting like the ‘Boa Constrictor’. First it wrapped the people in the grip of sky-rocketing prices and then with blatant insensitiveness is squeezing life out of them.

Actually if one goes deep into the meaning of the Planning Commission figures, we shall be able to see the logic behind their oxymoronic estimates. In present times it is simply impossible to get through an entire day with Rs 25-30. And if someone spends more than the said figure, the Planning Commission alleviates them from below the poverty line.

Automatically the statistics of people below the poverty line changes, going downwards of course! The world sees these figures and thinks that India is becoming poverty free - it sounds like a brilliant plan. What an ingenious way to elevate the poor! But dear bureaucrats, the common man has changed the meaning of the famous quote – ‘Common sense is not so common’ - the masses can now read between the lines and understand the motive behind the confusing figures.

The numbers presented before the country are derived from real people. And the reality is definitely bleaker than what is being projected. Leave aside everything like health-care and education and let us just focus on food. Mr. Ahluwalia, when was the last time you visited a vegetable market? Just one trip to the market will surely make your head reel. Face the reality and see the kind of struggle the common man has to face in their daily lives just to survive, forget comfortably. Once the price of commodities goes up, it is there to stay. It never comes back to ease our lives. Even when the statistical data of inflation dips, the price of necessities does not come down.

The Opposition has predictably trained its gun on the government over its utterly dishonest attempt to cover up the reality and dishing out deceitful figures. BJP said that maybe the government is unsure of what line they are taking – is it poverty line or starvation line. It is probably beyond the imagination of the Planning Commission to know how a person could survive on such a meager income. The statistics raise suspicions about the government’s motive at giving people a better life. The Opposition has also charged the government on grounds of glaring inequalities and concealing realities regarding the increasing poverty in India. It also suspects that this might be a ploy to deny the poor the right to BPL cards.

Nonetheless to our utmost surprise Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad lamented about the state of the infant mortality rate in the country saying that it was so bad that it could only be compared with Pakistan amongst our neighboring countries. In the words of the minister himself - “In India, the infant mortality rate (IMR) is 47 per thousand live births which translates into 12.5 lakh infant deaths per year.” In a country where the poor struggle for one square meal a day, how can we expect them to provide their family with proper health-care, food, sanitation and education?

A government headed by an economist Prime Minister and a competent Finance Minister, was expected to take the economy of the nation to great heights.

People of India would like to believe that the future holds a promise for them where sustained growth will lead them to a life of prosperity. Employment will be for all. And welfare schemes will reach the needy.

Rural and unorganized labourers will get a better shift in the factories or have better ways of self-employment. Increased focus on health, education and infrastructural development and the fulfillment of basic needs can play the role of poverty-buster not just jargon of numbers.

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