Planning Commission Does It Again!

Now, anyone spending more than Rs.22.40 in rural areas, and Rs 28.65 in urban areas, is NOT POOR!

Not long ago, the Planning Commission headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia generated countrywide outrage and protests when it submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating a poverty line of Rs 26 for rural India and Rs 32 for urban India. Now the Planning Commission has gone one step further, and has declared an even lower poverty line of Rs.22.40 in rural areas, and Rs 28.65 for urban areas.

By shifting the goalposts and lowering the poverty benchmark, the Planning Commission and UPA Government want the country and the world to believe that the numbers of the poor in India has reduced! The Planning Commission’s latest figures claim that BPL population as a percentage of the total population has reduced by 7 per cent between 2004-05 to 2009-10. The Government’s motive in claiming a ‘reduction’ in poverty is obvious: it has to justify slashing subsidies and hiking prices in its Budgets, and it has to establish ‘poverty reduction’ as an achievement of its neoliberal policies, before the general elections in 2014.

The idea that those spending above pitifully small amounts (not even Rs 23 and Rs 29 a day) are ‘not poor’ is a cruel joke, revealing of the insensitivity and complete disconnect from the reality of Indian people’s lives, on part of the neoliberal agents of World Bank-IMF, Montek Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh.

The notable thing is that even after manipulating the definition of poverty to back its false claims of ‘inclusive growth’, the Planning Commission’s data still shows an appalling increase in inequality and rampant destitution. If poverty were to be defined in a just manner, the extent of inequality and destitution would rightly prove to be much more.

Using the Gini Coefficient (on a scale from zero to 1, in which zero indicates perfect equality and 1 indicates absolute inequality), the data shows an increase in inequality in rural areas from 0.27 per cent during 2004-05 to 0.28 per cent during 2009-10, and in urban areas from 0.35 to 0.37. Inequality rose sharply in rural areas of relatively well-off States like Punjab (0.26 to 0.29), and Kerala (0.29 to 0.35); as well as Bihar (0.19 to 0.22), Madhya Pradesh (0.24 to 0.28) and Assam (0.18 to 0.22).

In urban areas, inequality rose in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Inequality rose most sharply in urban Kerala (0.35 to 0.40), Uttar Pradesh (0.34 to 0.40), Himachal Pradesh (0.26 to 0.35), Odisha (0.33 to 0.38), Punjab (0.32 to 0.36), Delhi (0.32 to 0.35) and Jammu and Kashmir (0.24 to 0.31).

The data also shows increased insecurity of the workforce. Employment data released by NSSO last year had already indicated jobless growth, with a decline in employment rate from 42% in 2004-05 to 39.2% in 2009-10. The latest data shows a dangerous casualisation of the workforce. Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the number of casual workers grew by 21.9 million, while growth in the number of regular workers nearly halved (compared with the period between 1999-2000 and 2004-05) to 5.8 million; the number of the self-employed, dominated by agricultural workers, fell by 25.1 million. The data also showed a high incidence of poverty among casual labourers in urban areas: 86% in Bihar; 89% in Assam; 58.8% in Orissa; 56.3% in Punjab; 67.6% in Uttar Pradesh, and 53.7% in West Bengal. Even lowering of poverty line could not escape the conclusion that the large majority of the increasingly casualised workforce in India is poor.

The data also shows high levels of destitution. 50% of the population of Bihar and Chhattisgarh are destitute, while 37-39% are destitute in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland too show increasing destitution levels. The data also shows high poverty ratios for Muslims.

The Household Amenities and Assets Census of 2011 released recently, also exposes the falsity of UPA Government’s ‘inclusive growth’ claims. Less than half (47%) of households in India have latrines. 39% have no kitchen, only 32% have tapped drinking water, only 29% have a concrete roof for their house, and 26% an LPG connection.

‘Growth’ in times of privatisation and liberalisation have only meant rapidly increasing prices, destitution, exclusion, unemployment, exploitative jobs, insecurity, and poverty for the vast majority of India’s people. Even the Government’s biased data cannot hide this reality entirely. The least the government must do in such times, is to expand the public distribution of food, fuel, and other essentials, and also to ensure free education, health, water and sanitation for all except the richest top layer of the population.

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