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The language of poverty statistics

, May 16, 2013, 0 Comments

poverty-statisticsReduction in poverty has been the major goal of developmental planning in India since independence and has been the prime focus of the Indian government through all the five year plans, beginning in 1951. But the progress has been highly uneven over space and time, with the definition of poverty being the biggest constraint.

The Planning Commission established the poverty line based on the total sum of food consumption for necessary calorie intake and on non-food consumption. The National poverty line was 327.56 Rupees for rural and 454.11 Rupees for urban areas in terms of monthly per capita expenditure for the year 1999-2000, which, according to the commission, was sufficient to provide basic items like clothing and transport in addition to the calorie intake of 2100 per person in urban areas and 2400 per person in rural areas. Individuals who did not meet these calorie norms were termed as people below the poverty line.

A committee set up in 2007, came up with a startling figure that 77 per cent of Indians were poor. This was after they decided to take a look at the unorganized sector. Yet another group of policy makers and decision makers rounded off poor Indians to a much better looking number of 50 percent of the population.

This was soon followed by another revision – The new methodology proposed by a recently formed government committee(called the Tendulkar Committee) derived to estimate poverty, has provided an estimate which is supposed to be 10% higher than the earlier one of 28.5%; 38% of India’s population is poor. This particular committee, headed by SD Tendulkar has used various indicators for health, education, sanitation, nutrition and income which give a wholesome view to the problem of poverty (Data collected from the National sample Survey Organization, 2004-05). It is also the first time that state-wise poverty lines were updated periodically based on price rise. Although this method seems to cover poverty in totality, it is still highly debated upon.

The earlier definition only covered one aspect of poverty – food. The inclusion of factors like health, education, sanitation, nutrition and income should supplement the understanding of poverty in India. However, it is important that poverty also be analyzed in a more qualitative manner and not just from the economic perspective. A multi-dimensional aspect, including the living and social conditions and the meeting of basic needs should be taken into account to examine the poverty situation in India accurately. Poverty estimation is a topic that has been discussed at great length by every possible committee, institute and organization in India and world over. However, the biggest challenge faced by the Indian Government is to uniformly state a methodology to identify poverty and estimate it accurately.

Without delving into the details of the methodology, it is essential for us to understand the various aspects involved in the definition of poverty, prior to setting about a technique for its estimation. Factors related to access to basic infrastructure like electricity, safe drinking water, sanitation, housing and transportation are the different aspects related to poverty. And the costs attached to these factors could actually help us attain the absolute figure of the poor in India. More so, it can help the government shift focus to the immediate necessities, to eradicate poverty.

As per the World Bank reports, India reduced poverty from 60% of the population to 42% between 1981 and 2005. As per 2010, India still accounts for one-third of the world’s 1.4 billion poor people, with 43% of Indian children being malnourished and over 35% of Indians being illiterate.

The optimism fades away with a look at these statistics.

Quoting numbers does not solve the fundamental issue of poverty. A precise understanding of the problem itself needs to be developed, before moving on to estimating poverty and building policies and theories to deal with it.

About author
Arpita chakravorty is a post-graduate (MSC) in Financial Economics from Madras School of Economics, India. Currently working as a Research Associate at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, which involves economic research and data analysis. ...more ...more