Who is poor in In­dia?

NDA gov­ern­ment must de­cide the an­swer be­fore it's too late

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - RICHARD MA­HA­P­A­TRA

That is the ques­tion the NDA gov­ern­ment will have to an­swer soon

FOUR YEARS ago, In­dia’s poverty line and the method­ol­ogy to iden­tify a be­low poverty line (bpl) fam­ily to di­rect wel­fare pro­grammes made head­lines, but for the wrong rea­sons. While ` 1,86,000 crore was wasted by not auc­tion­ing spec­trum, the Congress-led United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance (upa) gov­ern­ment had the au­dac­ity to claim that ` 18 per day was an ad­e­quate in­come to de­fine the poverty line that will de­cide en­ti­tle­ment to wel­fare pro­grammes. Given the star­tling sum of public money that was be­ing lost in var­i­ous scams, there was public and media out­rage over any­thing that was anti-poor, in­clud­ing poverty line es­ti­mates.

That was the be­gin­ning of a long de­bate on de­cid­ing a bpl fam­ily. It trig­gered the So­cio Eco­nomic and Caste Cen­sus (secc) in 2011. This par­tic­u­lar sur­vey has in­cluded caste cen­sus af­ter 80 years. The sur­vey will not only bring out eco­nomic sta­tus but also in­di­cate which caste is do­ing well eco­nom­i­cally.

The Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (nda) gov­ern­ment re­cently re­leased the secc re­port, but it did not in­clude the caste data. It is on the ba­sis of this re­port that the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp)-led gov­ern­ment will tar­get its wel­fare mea­sures. But first, the gov­ern­ment must de­cide who is poor in In­dia.

The in­di­ca­tions are not en­cour­ag­ing. First, the gov­ern­ment has not re­leased the caste data while re­leas­ing broad eco­nomic data. The sur­vey means lit­tle with­out caste-wise seg­re­ga­tion of the eco­nomic sta­tus data. Is the gov­ern­ment un­der pres­sure to not dis­close the caste in­for­ma­tion? There are media re­ports al­leg­ing that bjp’s ide­o­log­i­cal men­tor, the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, is not in sup­port of any caste-driven wel­fare pro­gramme. Mean­while, with Assem­bly polls due in Bi­har later this year, bjp may not like to hand over an ex­plo­sive po­lit­i­cal weapon to op­po­nents in the states known for their iden­tity pol­i­tics.

Se­condly, the sur­vey was un­der­taken to al­low states to use the data to de­fine their own pa­ram­e­ters for declar­ing a per­son or a house­hold poor. When the sur­vey re­port was re­leased, both the Union fi­nance and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment min­is­ters did not say any­thing on how the data would be used.In re­cent times, states have been given fis­cal au­ton­omy to draft their own wel­fare pro­grammes. If at all the states are go­ing to use the sur­vey data for iden­ti­fy­ing bpl house­holds, will the Cen­tre ac­cept this as it in­volves pro­por­tion­ate money? If the Union gov­ern­ment leaves the use of data to the states, we will most likely have a new list of bpl house­holds in the fu­ture to claim en­ti­tle­ments to wel­fare pro­grammes. Most of In­dia’s poor­est states are un­der nda’s rule. This may trig­ger in­ter­nal con­flict as the Cen­tre of­ten does not ac­cept the states’ es­ti­mate of bpl house­holds.

Thirdly, who will de­ter­mine the poverty line? Un­til now, the erst­while Plan­ning Com­mis­sion used to de­fine the line based on con­sump­tion ex­pen­di­ture data of the Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice. There is no clar­ity on whether this prac­tice will be stopped as another body—niti Aayog—has re­placed the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. The new body has set up a task­force to de­lib­er­ate on poverty es­ti­ma­tion. That the gov­ern­ment’s con­fu­sion over the poverty line will con­tinue is clear from a re­cent media state­ment of Arvind Pana­gariya, vice-chair­per­son of niti Aayog. “I do not think the con­ven­tional poverty anal­y­sis based on the ex­pen­di­ture sur­veys loses its sig­nif­i­cance in any way, but given what we have from the So­cio Eco­nomic and Caste Cen­sus, we do need to think whether we ad­di­tion­ally need a sep­a­rate of­fi­cial poverty line based on ex­pen­di­ture sur­veys.At the mo­ment, this is an open ques­tion with which we will be grap­pling as we carry for­ward the work of the task­force,” Pana­gariya told the media.

It could be nda’s upa mo­ment if the for­mer re­peats the lat­ter’s history.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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