If Planning Commission hera-feri is correct India can be a certified non-poor country !
By Dr Jay Dubashi
Some people are born mad, some people pretend to be mad, but there is also a third category which is mad, but pretends to be sane. The members of the Planning Commission, headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, fall in this category, mad men pretending to be sane.
How on earth do you explain their extraordinary conclusion that you can’t be poor if you can manage to earn and spend 32 rupees a day, if you live in a city. On this amount, you can have enough food to keep you going, enough clothes and doctor’s fees, enough fuel, including, I suppose, petrol for your car, and, of course, enough for your rent and conveyance. It is possible, though the Planning Commission wizards do not say so, that you will also have enough to save for a rainy day.
All this is based on a study made by an economist called Tendulkar – no relation to the great cricketer – who used to teach economics in the same university as Manmohan Singh. Poor fellow is dead, but his great magnum opus lives after him. I have no idea whether Tendulkar and his family actually lived on 32 rupees a day, but may be he did. May be Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who obviously believes in magic, also does.
This is not an odd statement by some mad people. This is what the Planning Commission people actually told the Supreme Court on September 20. They said that anyone spending more than Rs 965 per month in cities and Rs 781 in villages will be deemed to be not poor. They will also not be eligible to draw benefits of central and state government welfare schemes for those living below the poverty line. In fact, the poverty line itself has now been depressed so low that unless you are really fasting – like Anna Hazare – you cannot be poor any more. In fact, the government will be able to claim in the Parliament that the percentage of people below the poverty line in India is now so low that all poverty or anti-poverty programmes can now be abolished for ever, and India has got rid of the poor, and, of course, poverty, for ever.
The ranks of the poor continue to swell in other countries, but not apparently in India. On the day the Planning Commission made its deposition in the Supreme Court, the Census Bureau of the US announced poverty figures in that country. The number of Americans below poverty line has reached record levels, and the poverty rate has soared to 15 per cent, the highest in history. This means that roughly one in six Americans is below poverty line.
And how does US define its poverty line? An individual with an income of $ 11,000 is poor, or a family of four with an income of $ 22,000 a year. Since per capita income in the US is around $ 49,000, this means an individual with less than a quarter of per capita income, or a family of four with less than half per capita income is poor.
Remember all these figures are in dollars. Remember also that poverty is always relative, not absolute. A poor man in the US, with an income of $ 11,000 per year, or Rs 5,50,000 is very very rich in India, though he is very poor in the US. And a man who is poor in India can be reasonably affluent in an African country.
It is obvious that the obsurd figures trotted out by our economist bureaucrats are actually cooked up figures, for in economics, you can always turn minus into plus (and vice-versa) and claim anything. Economists and bureaucrats are very good at such games, and Dr Manmohan Singh, a former economist as well as bureaucrat, is past master in this kind of hera-feri. After all, he was in the Planning Commission himself where he either learnt or perfected these tricks, and his chelas are now outdoing him. One of these days, they will announce to an astonished world that there are no poor in India any more, and they have abolished poverty in India for the first time in history with the help of experts in the World Bank and IMF.
India will then be a certified non-poor country, and Manmohan Singh will be crowned king of economists, the first man to wipe out poverty in India for good!
If the government can cook up figures about poverty, it can extend its expertise to other things also. How do we know that it has not already done so? How do we know, for instance, that unemployment is only 10 per cent, and not 20 per cent, as most people who cannot find jobs suspect? What about inflation itself, on which calculations about dearness allowance and other matters are made?
Secondly, how do we know that the government’s budget figures are not cooked up? Is our budget deficit what the Finance Ministry says it is, or something else? Is the US dollar really worth 50 rupees, or something else?
The government’s credibility is at stake in other matters also. We are being told by the Defence Ministry, as also the Defence Minister himself, that our armed forces are fully prepared to deal with attacks from our enemies. Are they really? This is what we were told by Nehru & Co when the Chinese attacked fifty years ago, and we all know what happened. Things are different now, says the government. Are they really? Can we take the government at its word?
Actually, we see a great deal of poverty about, particularly in the rural areas. We read stories about malnutrition, and children dying of lack of food by the hundred. We are told about adivasis, perhaps the poorest members of the community, eking out a living on leaves and roots, and many of them without adequate clothing. Then there are the slums, cheek by jowl with the skyscrapers of the new millionaires, people who are never seen doing any work, but always have money to burn. If India or Indians are not poor any more, why can’t they get proper housing?
We know that governments lie but we did not know that they lie so brazenly. Hitler and Stalin had built up their empires on lies, but we believed we were different. Apparently, all governments are the same. We were under the impression that only politicians told lies. Apparently, everybody in Manmohan Singh’s government does, from the head of the Planning Commission to the Secretary in the PM’s office. We can only pity them!