A govt panel on poverty doesn’t know what it is Paralympics gold, bronze for India
STALLED Members of task force to estimate number of poor can’t reach consensus
Just how many people in India are poor? The question remains unanswered with yet another government panel failing to define an official “poverty line”. After a year-and-half of work, a 16-member task force headed by NITI Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya has failed to reach a consensus and suggested to the government that another panel of specialists be asked to do the job.
HT has a copy of the panel’s final report, which was given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.
Governments set a poverty line to fix a threshold income to get a headcount of poor people in the country. People earning below the threshold, or the poverty line, are considered poor.
But defining poverty has been a controversial exercise in India with successive governments mothballing past recommendations by experts – largely because a lower poverty threshold could leave out genuinely needy people and a higher one could make the poverty number look bad for a government and require more subsidy spending.
Experts questioned the Panagariya panel’s indecisiveness. “The expert group should have taken a view. It can’t just say that there is a lack of consensus. It’s ridiculous,” Abhijit Sen, eminent economist and former Planning Commission member, told Hindustan Times.
“The problem is no one wants to bell the cat when it comes to giving the figures on total number of people who are poor in the country.” Sen blamed politics behind entitlements for the poor for the Panagariya panel’s indecisiveness.
Panagariya did not respond to calls and mobile text messages from HT.
In 2011, a new methodology suggested by a panel led by Suresh Tendulkar to measure poverty levels estimated the number of poor in India at 21.9% of the population (See box). The controversy over the low threshold income level forced the then UPA government to set up another expert panel headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan.
That committee pegged the threshold at levels which showed 29.5% of the population was poor. But the poverty debate was not settled.