News / Asia

India’s New Poverty Definition Upsets Activists, Some Economists

A man sits outside his makeshift shelter at the side of a road in Mumbai, India, Sept. 21, 2011.
A man sits outside his makeshift shelter at the side of a road in Mumbai, India, Sept. 21, 2011.

In India, norms set by the country’s main planning body to calculate poverty have been slammed by critics who fear they will exclude vast numbers of the needy from social welfare programs. About one third of India’s 1.2 billion population is poor, according to official estimates.  

Hari Singh earns about $150 a month working as a security guard in the business hub of Gurgaon near Delhi. After paying $40 to rent a small room in a slum, the 45-year-old can barely manage to buy enough food for the house.

Singh says fruit and milk are out of his reach. He estimates he needs double his income to cover basic expenses on housing, health care and schooling for his son.

But Hari Singh will not be counted among India’s poor, according to new criteria proposed by the planning commission to determine the poverty line.

The planning commission has told India’s supreme court that a person who spends roughly half a dollar a day on food, education and health in rural areas, or $15 a month, will not be considered poor. The bar for the poverty line for urban areas is slightly higher - 66 cents or about $20 a month. The figures are far below the World Bank’s international poverty standard of $1.25 per day.

The planning commission, which guides economic policy, formulated the norms after the country’s top court asked it to explain the basis for its poverty numbers.

The new criteria follow a contentious debate, in recent years, on how to identify India’s poor.  After being determined for decades by a person’s calorie intake, it has now moved to income.

But activists and many economists have slammed the new norms for being unrealistic.  They say that in a city such as New Delhi, 66 cents would buy a person no more than an onion, a potato, some rice, a banana, a pencil, an aspirin and a bus ticket.

"It’s been understood for some time that this poverty basket is very restrictive. But what is new and I think completely startling is the claim that this poverty line actually ensures adequate expenditure on food, health and education. That really cannot be justified from a common sense point of view… This is more like a starvation line than a poverty line," said Jean Dreze, a prominent development economist involved in India’s economic policy making.    

The planning commission says it has to set the poverty line to target those who are most in need. Officials stress that the government must make the best use of limited funds it has to spend on social welfare programs and they cannot cast the net too wide.

Despite India’s spectacular economic growth, millions of people are still poor. The Congress-led government has ambitious plans to cut poverty by spending billions of dollars on employment, health care and education programs. It proposes to pass a law to give cheap food grains to the poor. It wants to replace subsidized fuel and fertilizer with cash transfers.     

But activists argue that the government is trying to reduce its welfare burden by reducing the number of those who will qualify for state benefits. Among the critics is Biraj Patnaik, adviser to an official commission on the right to food.  

"What they want to do is to exclude 70 percent of the people of this country from any benefit that anti-poverty programs are giving, and this will then subsequently lead to a decline in subsidies… But this is eliminating the poor by deceit, by default and not by improving their lives," said Patnaik.

About 32 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, or roughly 400 million people, live in poverty, according to official estimates.

But several economists argue that these figures do not accurately reflect the extent of deprivation in a country where nearly half the children under five are malnourished.

A government appointed watchdog, the National Advisory Council, has been arguing that social support should now be extended to all citizens because the country can afford it.

Economist Dreze, who was a member of the council, supports this. He says some states in the country, like Tamil Nadu in the south and Himachal Pradesh in the north, are showing the way.   

“We can have comprehensive social security systems and many states in India are actually moving in that direction, expanding the public distribution system and I think the experience of that is reasonably positive that when more people are involved in the system, it works much better. A lot of people have a stake in it. When you have social services restricted to this minority of extremely poor households, it does not work very well, nobody cares," said Dreze.

Among those who agree with the proposal to expand benefits is security guard Hari Singh.

He says, however the official norms define poverty, he counts himself among the country’s poor and would appreciate a helping hand from the government.

You May Like

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs