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

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Moushumi Das Gupta moushumi.gupta@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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.

HT FILE PHOTO

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