Schemes for poor fine, but whats the definition of poverty

Written by Oineetom Ojah | New Delhi, Feb 25 | Updated: Feb 26 2008, 05:26am hrs
The UPA government is yet to set up an expert group to undertake a survey to identify people below the poverty line (BPL), even as the 11th Plan is already underway. The survey is normally conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) in the first year of every Plan period. However with the governments delay in setting up the group, work is expected to begin only in 2009, the third year of the 11th Plan. In fact, the government is yet to set the criteria to measure poverty for the 11th Plan.

In the last three Plans, different criteria have been used to identify the poor income was the basis in 1992 while consumption pattern was the base in 1997. The 10th Plan used a door-to-door census with a 13-point questionnaire that graded households on a scale. This method ran into trouble as the Supreme Court raised queries about the methodology. The apex court felt that the questionnaire was faulty. Reason If the daughter of a household went to school, it was considered a sign of not being poor, presenting a developmentally backward picture.

Though the ratio of poor in the country has dropped significantly from 54.8% of the total population in 1973 to 27.5% in 2004, the actual number of poor has not shown any major change. Moreover, the current poverty line Rs 356 monthly per capita expenditure for rural areas and Rs 458 for urban areas (2004-05) is considered too low.

Furthermore, the expert group headed by National Statistical Commission chairman Suresh Tendulkar to look into acceptable measures of poverty and evolve a new definition for poverty is yet to submit its report nearly two years after it was appointed by the Planning Commission.

Currently, the governments definition of poverty is based on a 15-year old definition proposed by the Lakdawala Committee way back in 1993, according to which poverty is defined on the basis of calorie consumption levels in 1973-74, which was 2400 (rural area) and 2100 (urban area) calories per capita per day. This too varies from state to state due to price variation in the consumer basket in the states. The calorie intake too has seen over 15-20% decline over

the years in both rural and urban areas.

Therefore the issue is if the present definition is valid today. Is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) appropriate to bump up poverty line year on year, Pronab Sen, chief statistician and secretary, ministry of statistics and programme implementation, told FE.

The Tendulkar Committee is therefore mandated to look into these issues and try to come out with state-specific poverty lines depending on the consumption basket of each state.

Sen added a review of the definition of poverty has become necessary, as most of the states including Punjab, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have been voicing concerns about the process of poverty estimation and the issue came up at the meeting of the National Development Council (NDC).