Will poverty rise in new BPL definition

New Delhi, May 30 | Updated: May 31 2007, 05:30am hrs
The government will take into account future liabilities of families too while determining their status as below poverty line (BPL). This may potentially increase the number of BPL families in India from the 22-23 crore estimated now and raise a fresh debate on the impact of reforms on poverty.

In the revamp of the guidelines defining BPL, the government plans to adopt a holistic approach. This means that a persons social commitment, liabilities and the financial status over the last 15 years may be considered rather than just his income. For example, a family with five daughters or one with huge debt will certainly make it to the BPL definition.

Government officials told FE, the idea was to define BPL families based on their financial status over a period of time, rather than at a point of time. Further, a farmer with income above the BPL norms, but saddled with huge debt, will figure in the BPL list. And in case his income has grown consistently from the previous census to cross the BPL mark in the forthcoming census, he will be excluded from the list.

Definitely, the present score-based ranking system used in the BPL census carried out by the rural development ministry would be replaced. States may lose the flexibility to decide the cut-off scores for identifying and sub-categorising households as very poor, poor or not-so-poor. The cut-off scores may be uniform for all states.

Above The Line

Assets and liabilities of families, and not just income levels, will be taken into account while deciding on BPL status
Social and financial commitment over a longer time span may be considered in defining BPL
States will lose flexibility
to decide cut-off scores that may be same for all

The move to redefine BPL families comes at a time when Indias estimation techniques have drawn considerable flak from various quarters including the Left. Officially, there are two sets of BPL estimates in India, one made by the Planning Commission using NSSO data on household consumption expenditure and the other by the rural development ministry through a state-level BPL house-to-house census .

The new method will leave certain basic needs like pucca houses in hilly areas and cattle in plains outside the purview of the BPL definition. Besides, using migration to define the status of a person as BPL is also being reviewed. There are several instances when people actually do not have to migrate as they find work locally, but that did not mean they were well off, an official associated with the exercise said.