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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora