Sonia to take up poverty issue amid govt flip-flop

The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council will meet on October 21 and possibly come out with its recommendations.

New Delhi: Taking note of government flip-flop over where to benchmark the economic criteria of poverty, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, comprising non-government experts, will meet on October 21 and possibly come out with its recommendations.

"The chairperson has called a meeting on October 21. Issues relating to poverty estimates and the ongoing Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 will form main part of the agenda," a source in NAC said.

The NAC could not meet in the past two months as Sonia Gandhi was abroad for treatment for an undisclosed ailment.

In her absence, the government faced flak over a Planning Commission affidavit in the Supreme Court, which said those spending over Rs 32 per day in urban areas and Rs 26 per day in rural areas were not poor.

The affidavit triggered a controversy and invited angry reactions from several social activists, including NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander.

Even senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi said the "plan panel was confused over the poverty issue and was misleading the Supreme Court".

"The affidavit gave an impression that people at that level are happy with their status, and the people above this line were quite well-off and deserved no government subsidy," said an NAC source.

In an attempt to save its face, the government quickly announced it would set up another expert panel to finalise the poverty estimates in the country after data from the SECC was available by January 2012.

The problem is there are no precise estimates of poverty available in India as the country currently has at least three expert views on the subject.

Economist Arjun Sengupta had said 70 percent Indians were living on less than Rs 20 a day, and former Planning Commission member-secretary NC Saxena`s report pegged it at over 50 percent of the population.

A third study, by economist Suresh Tendulkar, pegged poverty in India at 37.5 percent.

Correct estimates are important to ensure welfare schemes -- worth around Rs 80,000 crore (USD 17.5 billion) -- reach the needy alone.

Correct poverty estimates are also crucial for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which is planning to enact an ambitious National Food Security Act, covering around 75 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission has said it would submit a fresh affidavit in the apex court to clarify its stand on poverty estimates.


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