Last week the Planning Commission of India, a government institution that looks at how much money India has and recommends how much should be spent in which sectors, suggested to update the Indian criteria for who lives below the poverty line and who doesn’t. They are of the opinion that everybody who has enough money to spend more than 32 Rupees per day in a town or more than 26 Rupees a day in the countryside cannot be considered poor. 32 Rupees are currently about 0.64 US-Dollar. This has caused another uproar in media, among activists and of course among the general population.
According to the new suggestion, you are only poor if you daily spend less than Rs 5.5 on cereals, Rs 1.02 on pulses, Rs 1.55 on edible oil, Rs 1.95 on vegetables and 44 Paise on fruits. You are well off and not poor in this country if you spend more than Rs 49.10 a month on your rent in a city like Delhi and more than Rs 61.30 a month on clothing.
Who can live nicely in this amount of money? Nobody! They want to say if anyone earns more than 32 Rupees a day, he is not poor but the reality is that he will hardly have enough to eat, not to mention clothing and health care! But for the government he will be living above the poverty line and so they don’t need to care about him.
I tried to find out how many people actually live below the poverty line in India. The problem is that there is not any clear number! When you look up ‘Poverty in India’, you find at least five different committees, reports and organizations that give you different figures according to different criteria. The World Bank estimate of 2005 says that 41.6% of the population is below the international poverty line of 1.25 US-Dollar per day but at the same time the World Bank mentions that an estimated 80% earn less than 2 US-Dollars per day. The Tendulkar Committee counts 37% of the population as poor while the N. C. Saxena Committee mentions a figure of 50%. The Arjun Sengupta Report states that 77% of the population lives on less than 20 Rupees a day, which is currently about 0.40 US-Dollar. The only thing that seems to be clear is there are more poor people even only in North and East India than there are in the 26 poorest African nations!
The government officially accepted the estimate of the Tendulkar Committee with 37% of all Indians living below the poverty line. This is not surprising as it is the report with the lowest figures and officially the government supports those who live below the poverty line. We see that this support in reality never reaches those whom it is intended to help but the less poor people India officially has, the better it is for the government! It is just a game of numbers. This suggestion to update the criteria for the poverty line is thus seen as only this: a way to reduce the official number of people who live below the poverty line. Nobody earns more money than before, people still have to fight to make ends meet but India suddenly has a lot less poor people.
Can this be right?