A cruel joke on the poor: The new criteria for judging poverty are disgraceful and unrealistic

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Pushpa M Bhargava

Whether someone is poor or not would depend on the criteria we lay down for defining poverty. Therefore, let us examine these criteria, accepted by the Planning Commission and approved by the Union Cabinet, closely.

“The income limit for house-holds for qualifying as a beneficiary under the BPL (Below Poverty Line) list has been pegged at about Rs.27,000/- per annum, according to the methodology approved by the Union Cabinet on the 19th May,” reports The Hindu of the 21st May. This means that a per capita income of Rs.14.80 (say, Rs.15) per day in a family of five would take you above the poverty line and thus, place you in the category of the “affluent” who would not require special schemes , support and subsidy from the state.

To be fair to the Government, Rs.15 per day per person is the cut off point only for village dwellers. City dwellers would be regarded as being poor only if they spend less than Rs.19.3 (say, Rs.20) per day per person (Times of India, New Delhi, 11th May 2011, page 16).

In fact, PC has even suggested how one may live comfortably in the above amounts ( see table).

(TABLE at link: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110619/edit.htm#2 )

Let us look at these figures closely. The rates I am giving below are approximate, for the city I live in (Hyderabad) and for the cheapest, unadulterated, usable products in the open market from which a person will have to buy if he/she is above the poverty line.

It is incredible that PC recommends an expenditure of just Rs. 467 per year per person on clothing. With this sum an Indian woman would not be able to buy even two sarees, two petticoats and two blouses whereas the minimum requirement for an Indian woman per year is three sarees, four blouses and two petticoats.

The amount recommended by PC for education to put one above the poverty line would be, for two children, Rs.93 per month for a family of five. This would include fees, books, stationary, school bag and all other charges that the school may demand. This amount is a very small fraction of what the Government, it appears, will be willing to pay to private schools per poor child per month under the Right to Education Act.

The allowance for footwear – Rs.72 per year per person – is just as unrealistic. Tell me a place from where I can get a footwear that will last me for five years, for Rs. 360. And remember, for children, you will need to buy a footwear every year. For entertainment, PC has made a provision of Rs. 6.6 per month per person, the cheapest movie ticket in Hyderabad costs Rs. 10 per person.

Let us now look at what would be left – that is, about Rs.8 per person per day or Rs.1200 per month for a family of five – for other expenditure if you have just crossed the poverty line.

A bus pass in Hyderabad for five for a whole month will cost Rs.2500. Milk is approximately Rs.29 per kg. Even if you give 300 g (as per NIN’s recommendation) of milk per day, it will cost you Rs.522 per month. I leave it to the readers to judge what accommodation – just one room, kitchen and a bath of the lowest standard – would cost in a city like Hyderabad. And then, expenses on health, electricity and water would also have to be met out of the balance of Rs.1200 per month for the whole family; the minimum fee that a doctor charges in Hyderabad is Rs. 100 per visit. Further, where would the money come from for the minimum capital expenditure on say, kitchen utensils and furniture required for sleeping, studying and cooking? A small bedsheet will today cost a minimum of Rs.200.

Seventy per cent of India still lives in the rural sector. According to PC, only 41.8% of those living in the rural sector would be considered poor; this would mean 29.26% of Indian population.

Similarly, according to PC’s norms, 25.7% of the Indian population that lives in urban areas would be below the poverty line. As 30% of India lives in such areas, this would mean that 7.71% of the Indian population in the urban sector would be considered below the poverty line. Thus, even for PC, India has 29.26% + 7.71%, that is 36.97% (say 37%) poor people which is much lower than far more sensitive and reliable estimates.

Even 37% is a disgrace but what is worrying is that the Government would continue to decrease this figure by playing with numbers, instead of engaging in developmental activities judiciously coupled with various kind of assistance to enable those who are truly below the poverty line, become capable of pushing themselves progressively above the poverty line.

It is a moot question as to why, instead of opening new Government hospitals and making the existing Government hospitals more viable and patient-friendly, or improving the lot of Government schools, the Government has decided to pay private hospitals and schools for taking care of poor people.

A cruel joke on the poor. The new criteria for judging poverty are disgraceful and unrealisticP.M. Bhargava. The Tribune, 19th June 2011.

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