The Planning Commission of Government of India has once again reviewed the index of poverty in the country and said that those spending Rs. 22.70 in rural and Rs 33.33 in urban areas would not be considered as poor. The Planning Commission in its September 2011 submission had informed the Supreme Court that those who spent Rs 26 in rural and Rs 32 in urban areas were above poverty line. The basis for determining this cut off figure was based on 2011-12. In 2004-05 the Tendulkar Panel had formed the basis for poverty line, which was 37 per cent. Now that percentage has come down to 22. It is a common knowledge that the inflation rate was around 10 for the last year but for the Planning Commission it was only Re 1 as far as the poor are concerned.
It is also a paradox that while the government and Planning Commission agreed to the rise in prices, the ruling party leaders claim that one can have sumptuous meals at Rs. 12/- in Mumbai and Rs. 5/- in Delhi. I do not want to blame these ruling party leaders that they were rubbing salt to their wounds of poverty, but I would expect from them that they should declare the name of that dhaba or shop where food could be available at Rs. 12/- or Rs. 5/- so that the poor can go there and satisfy their hunger. I would like to mention here that Anil Shastri, head of Congress Party’s Hindi cell had tweeted that the rate of limited food available in Congress HQ Canteen was hiked from Rs 30/- to Rs 40/- in the last month.
When the Planning Commission was headed by a ‘noted economist’ like Dr Manmohan Singh how could he overlook to safeguard the interests of the poor? It is under his leadership that their number was reduced by 15 per cent in the last decade! If the same rate of reduction were to continue, then we would not be able to find a poor man in this country and the poor leaders would face the danger of unemployment!!
It is a fact that the Congress was giving Garibi Hatao slogan since 1971. It had formed a task force during the Sixth five-year plan to fix the poverty line on the basis of minimum requirement and demand for sale. Afterwards Prof Lakdawala Committee was formed to decide the number of poor and their percentage. Some steps were taken to improve their standard on the recommendations of the committee.
According to Arjun Sengupta Committee constituted for the unorganised sector there were 77 per cent people who used to spend Rs. 20.30 in 2006. The N C Saxena Committee of the Rural Development Ministry placed 50 per cent population below poverty line on the basis of calories consumed. The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative put this figure at 65 crore. World Bank decided this figure to be 80 crore in their reports. But the Planning Commission has been consistently putting this figure at 22 per cent only.
A very important question that arises here is: Does satisfying hunger makes a man happy? Is that the only criterion for his living? Or the other requirements such as shelter, education, health and social commitment were also equally important for the human life? The other pertinent question is if the poverty rate was falling at this speed then for whom the UPA government was rushing the food security bill which stated that five kg food grains would be supplied at reduced rates to 75 per cent in rural and 50 per cent population in urban areas that is yet to be identified, so that they could lead a respectable life and save them from malnutrition and hunger. That is in other words 67 per cent of the country’s population for whom violating all the parliamentary norms this ordinance was brought, is suffering from malnutrition and hunger. According to Planning Commission, 22 per cent population lives below poverty line and according to the government this percentage is 67. Now in plain mathematical calculation this adds up to 89 per cent of population that lives below the poverty line in this country! If the government could not do anything for these poor, at least they should not rub salt on their wounds.
Today the urgent need is not to calculate the number of poor but to provide work and employment to every hand to make this country happy and prosperous.
(The writer is zonal organising secretary of BMS)