Fabrication of Poverty Data In India
India: Good Figures For Bad Situation – Fabrication of Poverty Data In India
By Sachin Kumar Jain
By a magic wand unfurled by the Planning Commission, 84.9 million Indians have stopped to be poor between 2010 and 2012: they went through and soared above the poverty line pushed by the Indian Government. Until now, it was said of India as a nation of illiterate people; the Planning Commission of India now believes that, along with being illiterate, the population of the country is uncouth illiterate idiots. It believes that the population, majority of it, is habituated to be slaves and that they need to be governed with an iron hand, firmly. It also believes that poverty need not be alleviated, minimised or annihilated. A few economists have developed a new instrument, sharpened in the fire called market, named Estimation of Poverty. They have concluded that poor need not be moved out from the conditions of poverty but it should manoeuvre to show that the poverty is declining. It is an art that they have perfected well! And, look, how? They are engaged in constricting the per capita expenses thereby stifling the Indian people in the ever-increasing levels of inflation.
Are we in a mass extinction era anchored by our own policies? An era where, after being stuck by weapons, the blood does not ooze out but permeate the whole body? At a time when pulses are Rs60 per kg, milk is Rs40 per litre, tomato Rs50 per kg and gourd is Rs40 per kg; the general illness cost you Rs350 and commuting to the workplace is not below Rs20: The Planning Commission has stuck with a statistical shell on 22nd July 2013. Their estimates, based on inflation rate (which is more fictitious and less factual) and peoples buying and spending capacities, 20 million people have moved out of poverty line from 2004-05 to 2011-12. On the contrary, during this time, there has 40 per cent to 160 per cent increase in the prices of basic provisions and services; but the experts are immune to these stark reality and their statistics do not include any of these basic facts.
According to the latest estimates of the Planning commission, we have had 37.2 per cent poor in 2004-05 which had come down to 29.8 per cent in 2009-10 and, lo and behold! It has gone down to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12. In fact it would be appropriate to measure the poor peoples’ death rate in sync with the decline in poverty masterminded by the Planning Commission. The planning commission has considered an urban person earning Rs33.33 per day or a rural person earning Rs27.2 as not poor. For, it has illusionary yardsticks, the planning commission, social discrimination and boycott, rampant marginalisation, disability, displacement and distress migration are not indicators of poverty. Before this, in 2009, the planning commission, based on the same parameters, had drawn the poverty line at Rs22.42 for rural and Rs28.65 for the urban population. It would be quite interesting to note here that the Planning Commission has rejected its own definition of the poor: it had quoted Rs 80 (USD $1.25) as the minimum per day earning to classify the poor from not-poor in its all projects for support it had submitted to the World Bank (from sanitation to panchayat system).
Truth is the Planning Commission weaves a beautiful web of statistical skulduggery. According to one of its press releases, when the new liberalisation policies were working effectively from 1993-94 to 2004-1005, the poverty rate was decreasing at 0.74 per cent per year. At a time when, from 2004-05 to 2011-12, the so called development was paralysed and the country’s economy was on the verge of going kaput, the planning commission says, the poverty decline was moving at 2.18 per cent per annum! At other times, the government says that our situation (economic) is bad because the world economic condition is bad; but the poverty estimates take the exact opposite stand: at a time when the prices of petrol-diesel, pulses, vegetables have skyrocketed and when the unemployment has gone out of control increasing manifolds, the Planning Commission has turned the magic wand to decrease poverty.
Poverty estimates at States and National level: as per the latest estimates, the number of poor people went down from 53.5% to 33.74% from 2012 to 2013 in Bihar. In one year alone, 185.35 lakh people moved from below to above poverty line in Bihar. In Andhra Pradesh poverty declined from 21.1 per cent to 9.20 per cent: 97.8 lakh people have stopped to be poor. In Gujrat 33.97 lakh people moved above poverty line while in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh 64.08 lakh and 139.71 lakh, respectively, are poor no more. We were caught napping while the revolution was sweeping the country! In Uttarakhand the poverty has declined from 18 per cent to 11.26 per cent. Lots of more numbers, statistics but this much would do-more than sufficient.
The line of poverty, instead of hanging well above the head, takes you by the caller, dissects the throat and emerges unscathed from the other end! According to the Planning Commission, the poverty line is placed at and expenditure of Rs27.20 in rural areas and Rs33.33 in the urban areas. This is the averaged line nationally and in some states it hits you below the belt. In Orissa, people who are unable to make an expenditure of less than Rs 23.16 in rural and 28.70 for urban areas will be called poor. In Bihar the poverty line dissects the population at Rs25.93 (rural) and divides them into poor (below this line) and not poor (above this line). In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh the line is placed at Rs24.93 and Rs24.60 respectively for rural areas. The people, from urban areas, who spend less than Rs29.90 per day (per person) in Madhya Pradesh, Rs30.76 in Bihar, Rs28.70 in Orissa and Rs28.30 in Chhattisgarh would be considered poor.
Poor’s food platter: In India, the average per capita monthly consumption expenditure is Rs1053.64 for rural areas. Of this, Rs600.36 or 56.98 per cent is spent on food. Corresponding urban spend is Rs880.83 or 44.39 per cent. In Bihar, from the monthly per capita consumer expenditure of Rs 780.15, Rs504.81 or 64.71% goes into procuring food. The big problem is, in India, we haven’t formulated any basic parameters’ framework to define basic needs and marginalisation scale to assess the people into poor or not poor categories, and the degree of poverty within the main poverty category.
The problem associated with these numbers: We all know that in 1973-74, for the first time, we have had a poverty line dividing population for rural and urban areas in India. At that time, the expenditure was the primary criteria to decide the poverty line; how much the person earns and whether it is enough to sustain that person or not was not taken into consideration. Many a times, the material or produce that the people collected from the natural surroundings was added to the expenditure to lower the number of poor people; the practice is still in force! Exactly forty years back the people, who spent Rs48.90 per month or Rs1.63 per day in rural areas and Rs57 per month or Rss1.90 per day or less in urban areas, were placed in the poor category by the experts. The expenditure was based on the then current price but from then on, not even once the prevailing current price was the base for assessing poverty line: it does not have any parameter related to consumption and current price. Forty years ago defined price has been increased piecemeal from time to time based on inflation rate (which itself is a fraud); the poverty line was not based on current price but on some policy compulsions where the system always counteracts with the interests of the masses. Dr N. C. Saxena, the ex secretary of the planning commission and rural development ministry, says, this is a jugglery of the numbers, nothing else. For example if we change the minimum base expenditure price from Rs27 to, say for example, Rs 40, the number of poor people will shoot up from 26 per cent to 50 per cent. Twenty seven rupees are not enough to fulfil the daily basic necessities and despite this, the minimum expenditure being placed at such low levels, 270 million people are estimated to be poor. Instead of opposing this flawed manoeuvre, we should demand that the line be kept intact with a change of name: the starvation line.
It is also imperative to ask the government why it is talking about covering 67 per cent of the population under National Food Security Act when there are only 21.9 per cent people below the poverty line. The truth is, it is being fully acknowledged by the government that being above the poverty line do not qualify to be ineligible for right to health care services, education and food. The National Sample Survey Organisation study, which has been the base for defining poverty line, tells us that Rs51.91 are spent on health in rural areas while in urban the per capita per month health expenditure is Rs99.06. As per the Planning Commission Committee on health, 80 per cent of the expenditure on health is out of pocket. Do the economists are so naive that they don’t understand when the total expenditure is so less (Rs51 and Rs99 for rural and urban respectively) and nothing is free, why the people are spending so less on health care? Of about 150 schemes being run by the government, a few years back about 30 schemes have had poverty line as the parameter; currently only old age pension has poverty line as the parameter. The Indian government has had to remove this parameter from the rest of the schemes in last ten years as the Planning Commission assessment was not acceptable to all. We need to ponder on our governance system where all the political parties unite to safeguard their discretionary powers but never ever debate or discuss definitions of poverty or poverty estimation in the parliament. The picture is clear: the Planning Commission has more discretionary powers than the parliament. As with the health, the education situation is no different: Rs99.06 in rural areas and Rs160.5 in urban areas are spent on education in our country.
We are being blighted by the sparkling development rate of the country that we are unable to see the truth, as per National Sample Survey Organisation report, that the 10 per cent belonging to the uppermost wealth quintile are able to spend merely Rs 155 per day; is the government, and the parliament, trying to cover the disastrous situation?
We know for sure that no earth shattering impact is going to happen due to the Planning Commission estimates: that there is not going to be any change in status of rights of the people. But the buck does not stop here: this inhuman and unjust poverty line would be used strategically to prove that privatisation, structural adjustment, limiting the scope of the welfare role of the state and the policies promoting resource loot has resulted in lowering poverty. Let’s be damn clear: the poverty is now declining but the poor are being eliminated. Time has arrived to dissect the role and objectives of the Planning Commission.
Mr. Sachin Kumar Jain is a development journalist and researcher who is associated with the Right to Food Campaign in India and works with Vikas Samvad, AHRC’s partner organisation in Bophal, Madhya Pradesh.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.