Poverty is the state of human subsistence where one finds oneself unable to fully participate in the process of production and fair trade, to earn suitable wages, enough to cover the cost of a healthy & hygienic living in a dignified way. A person in poverty is not only denied a healthy & productive living standards in present, but he is also unable to make good use of any evolving opportunity due to lack of adequate resources. Thus even the future generation of a person in poverty is condemned to live in subsistence. Poverty not only gives an undignified present state of living but also makes a person bereft of any hope to improve his lot without an external support.
Poverty can be attributed to many factors, each of which may have its own degree of distress. Chief causes of poverty are normally cited as lack of education & marketable skills, high growth rate of population, lack of natural resources of production like agricultural land and mines, fiscal imprudence of the government, lack of entrepreneurship or ideas in a society, low rate of capital formation, casteism/racism, lack of infrastructure, inadequate investment or foreign investment, security environment etc.
Poverty is the result of inability of a society or any particular cross-section of a society to participate in or share the means of production and engage in a fair exchange process on a sustainable basis. In simple words, this translates into either hindrance or a lack of empowerment of a cross-section of society to produce marketable goods and seek a suitable price in a free & fair manner. The term ?free & fair? may be interpreted as something similar to ?Pure Competition? as in economics. In context of producers, this also means availability of a large number of producers with easy & unfettered access to factors of production such as land, capital, manpower & other resources. The important point is the emphasis on distribution of the means of production to ensure participation of a larger population and a fair trading process to ensure adequate remuneration. If a society embarks on such mission, the inequalities are bound to reduce, resulting in improvement in quality of living for a larger number of people, enhanced productivity & greater harmony. The contrast between USA & Japan may not out of place to be quoted here. USA with much greater land, mineral & other resources, houses a much higher proportion of people in poverty than Japan which is low on resource but has achieved a better distribution of resources (lower inequality).
Then there is also the human problem of motivation, where a human being has an opportunity to exploit the means of production and get a fair market price, but does not feel tempted to do so. This could be a result of lack of ideas and information, a general state of gloominess, fear of exploitation and other similar factors. It may sometimes happen when the human subject has comfort of accumulated assets e.g. a doctor or an educationist may be unemployed or inadequately employed (low wages) in an urban area, however does not feel tempted to explore a rural or a sub-urban area offering higher wages for employment. Also, poverty itself is a big detriment for the poverty struck person as it blocks many of his attempt to rise above poverty due to inability to provide for the financial resources to do so e.g. a person good at computers may not able to afford himself of proper training and seek better wages.
Any concentrated attempt to root out poverty from any part of the geography should clearly plan & provide answers to the following three questions. What measures should be adopted to create and deliver a larger number of resources to reach out to a larger number of people in the region? How to ensure unhindered access of the produce of the region to its markets & ensure a fair price? And finally, what can be done to ensure that a larger number of people feel motivated to participate in the production process?
Any concentrated effort to alleviate poverty levels with active participation of local population in the production process has largely eluded us. However we do have some successful examples to be cited e.g. the land reforms in some states, which involved redistribution of land (a production resource) to tillers, the irrigation projects & green revolution in Punjab which enhanced productivity of numerous small farmers, the cooperative dairy farming in Gujarat, enhancement of education in Kerala & Tamil Nadu leading better empowerment of people and hence alleviation of poverty. In each of these projects, active participation of the local population in the process was achieved (whether through natural inclination, charismatic leadership, incentives or otherwise), the production resource was widely distributed and shared with population, fair trading price of the produce was ensured either through minimum support price in Punjab, through fairer procurement policies in Gujarat and political empowerment in other states. Most important but least remembered fact is that the leadership was able to reach out to motivate people to participate in these programmes.
Given the above, it might be concluded that we have neither learnt from our failures nor from our successes. We have mostly encouraged megalomaniacal ideas of our political bosses and sarkari babus and succumbed to their fetish for control in their own hands. There is also little understanding to know understand or the reason of poverty among the Administrators. The chief failure in all these years of planning growth to alleviate poverty is that the planning process itself could not be distributed to empower countryside people to plan for themselves. The result is a plethora of grandiose plans in the name of poverty alleviation, but very little actual improvement. The moot point is, How long will it continue?