You must be joking Mr. Montek!
Of late, I have started to love the idiom ‘practise what you preach.’ So, I took up a new challenge. Winning or losing didn’t matter. What mattered most was whether I could honestly accomplish the given task.
I tried hard, surviving on Rs 32 a day after the Planning Panel’s affidavit defining poverty line cut-offs was announced. That way, I thought, I could at least express solidarity with those who are actually branded as ‘not poor’. But I soon realised that solidarity in principle would be better. For the amount capped for spending to qualify as poor is downright ridiculous.
According to the affidavit that was floated, the poverty line for urban areas could be provisionally kept at Rs 965 per capita per month (about Rs 32 per day) and that for the rural areas at Rs 781 per capita per month (about Rs 26 per day).
For my challenge, I assumed double the urban cut-off. Had I not, I would have had to resort to a detoxification diet — just black tea and nimbu pani. No matter how much you economise, even a plain and simple life would entail breakfast, lunch and dinner. Isn’t it?
I started my challenge on a beautiful Durga Puja morning in office. After a little work, I was hungry. It was breakfast time. The office canteen had many things to offer, as it was Navratri. So many vegetarian options to my (not so) delight! Alas, I had to be mindful of my budget. I quelled my desire for a bread omelette and instead opted for a rather simple and sasta aloo ka parantha with dollops of butter. The price? Only 20 bucks for the desi delight. Then followed lunch. Despite my belt-tightening efforts, I still had to shell out a good 30 bucks for a spartan dal chawal platter.
I came to office walking and preferred stretching my legs again on the way back home. Not because of any green pledge. It was more out of the fear that the rickshaw-wallahs too might have decided to double their daily budget and pass on the burden to their customers. Besides, I had dinner to think of. By the time I got home, I had only Rs 14 left. An egg for Rs 3, a bun for another five and the miscellaneous Rs 6 helping me with a sliver of butter and my royal dinner was served!
Oh, did I mention the Planning Commission believes that a person can meet his food, health and education expenses easily with my Rs 64 budget? I must be a real spendthrift to have barely covered my food expenses with the sum. Before going to bed I like to watch my favourite TV cooking show ‘Nigella Bites’ on TLC. But then the electricity cost comes to around Rs 7 per unit. I decided to just go to sleep and dream of something beautiful. At least that’s for free.
Our Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia is believed to have told the PM that he would discuss the poverty line issue with plan members and then take a decision on filing another affidavit to clear the air regarding the controversy. Last heard, he is considering an upward revision to the Rs 32 benchmark. One only hopes that this time around he is not joking.