India’s Planning Commission recently filed an affidavit that sets its poverty line at Rs. 32 or just under 50 pence a day in an urban city, enough to buy a bus or metro ticket and a packet of milk. The rural poverty line is set even lower at Rs. 25. The Government claims that this is enough to pay for food, healthcare and education for a family of five.
There has been outrage across the country against this piece of legislation, with headlines reading ‘Jokers of the planning commission’ and similar. Anyone who is able to spend Rs. 985 or more per month (urban) or Rs. 781 per month (rural) is deemed to not be poor and is no longer entitled to many of the government’s entitlement schemes. These schemes, already flawed, do not actually reach enough of India’s ailing population; if the poverty line remains where it is, this can only get worse.
Much of the commentary surrounding this considers the fact that this brings down the percentage of India’s poor in the world’s eyes, seemingly proving a continual economic growth without the ensuing social gap that seems to run parallel to it. This, however, is not the case. As capitalism reigns, people continue to get poorer. The GDP remains a fallacy which does not effect the mass population of India.
The societal apathy, however, which affects a large majority of India’s upper class, continues to remain in play. Although people have jumped on the anti-corruption bandwagon (flawed as it is, see my article here) or taken over the ‘fasting’ movement, the absolute dire poverty that most of our country lives in seems to take to the back-burner. The ever-present site of the little child in rags squatting on the side of the road becomes merely part of the scenery, and irrelevant to lives looking out of (rose) tinted window-panes. The Government, it seems, is not immune to this view of the world. Parliament’s own ivory tower remains far removed from the garbage that lines the streets and the people who live among it.
Tehelka and the New York Times India blog have looked at case studies of workers around India and in New Delhi, respectively, where people who would be considered ‘poor’ by global standards are not considered part of the group that is below the poverty line (BPL). Who then is left to be poor inIndia?
If the Government of India is right, why do we still receive billions in aid from around the globe? It serves their purpose to receive aid money, which is whittled down to the bare minimum before it actually gets to those who need it. The horror stories of those who just barely get by need to resound in the hearts of those who are actually part of the planning commission; the media rhetoric itself will unfortunately not make a difference.
The Government is constantly launching anti-poverty scheme after scheme, but what needs to be strengthened is the bridge between the theoretical scheme and its implementation. The Public Distribution System (PDS) is supposed to supply subsidised grain and kerosene to those who require it. Unfortunately, it is often ineffective with ration shops squirreling away part of their produce to the black market. The fairly meager amount that people with a ration card actually receive is barely enough to make a difference to their livelihood. To reduce this even further by saying that anyone who can spend Rs. 32 a day is not poor is a shocking understatement, and in fact, a violation of human rights. The Government is essentially admitting that 40.74 crore (407 million) people live under the newly established BPL, and consequently are on the brink of starvation. According to Arjun Sengupta’s 2007 report, the number is actually double these Government figures (836 million). Since 2007, the population has increased, as has the numbers of people living with poverty. In fact, then, there are possibly over 50% of Indians who are actually living in dire poverty, and more who do not come under the new poverty line.
Everyone has a right to food, to healthcare and to basic education. The ineffectiveness of the Government’s anti-poverty schemes coupled with this new Poverty Line ensures that those who are garib (poor) will remain so, and those who are ameer (rich) will turn their faces away. Although the MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scheme has been effective, as has PDS in some states, its unsystematic implementation has meant that certain areas have been ignored.
Coming back to the poverty line debate, an issue is brought to the forefront that is often left dusty and forgotten – it suits the Government’s purposes to keep its population poor and uneducated. I would like to see an official from the Planning Commission living on Rs.32 a day, considering Government wages have just been doubled. It comes back to the problems of urban development (see my last blog-post here), which causes prices to rise, but does not allow wages to rise in accordance. Those on the streets are left behind, the Government blusters publicly about all it does to combat poverty, whilst presenting doctored figures to the world.