By B.N. Acharya

Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Poverty alleviation is always a slogan for all parties, although I never find any real intent in any government. The first attempt made is to to define poverty; various governments appoint committees headed by expert economists to define what poverty exactly is. I always wonder about the parameters on which such ‘poverty lines’ are drawn, an exercise which makes others question my sanity.

Earlier there was a Tendulkar Committee & now a Rangarajan Committee. Let’s consider the latest Rangarajan Committee report which states that anyone earning Rs. 32 per day in rural areas & Rs. 47 per day in urban areas is not poor! I don’t know what the basis of fixing of such figures is! Some says it’s as per minimum nutritional criteria while others give strange economic terminology, which goes above ordinary people like me.

But somehow I feel, perhaps such committees are appointed to give a basis to define a line and to fix the number of poor which will be entitled to government benefits. Perhaps the government fixes the number of the poor first, then the economist panels are asked to provide a justification with economic terms. That is how I guess the Rangarajan Committee decided on an earning of Rs 32/per day & Rs 47/per day in rural & urban areas respectively, to fix the poverty line. It means those having less income than the set line are called Below Poverty Line (BPL) & entitled to get all the government subsidies already declared or to be declared from time to time.

So, let’s examine if this line is really benefiting the beneficiaries. Technically, yes. With Rs 31 per day in Rural areas, one can get rice/wheat @ Rs1/2/3 per KG, Hard ration (Dal, Channa etc) Rs 3/per kg! They would get free housing under Indira Awas Yojana, free electricity as per Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana & all other benefits declared by state governments & central governments. Thus their life would be manageable, thanks to the state’s welfare policies.

 But just imagine a person earning Rs 33 per day in rural & Rs 48 per day in urban areas! They are considered Above Poverty Line (APL) and “not poor”. How can they make their ends meet? They have to purchase everything in market rate, like rice @ Rs20-25 per Kg, hard ration @ Rs 50-60 per Kg & let’s not forget about the expenditures related to their homes, electricity, education of their children & all other things. Isn’t such a line making the APL poorer than BPLs? Isn’t it contradictory & ridiculous?

Point is simple; such committees fixing poverty lines are not established with the intent of alleviating poverty! It’s just to create a vote bank depending upon government SOPs and doles and in fact, such committees and their recommendations promote poverty! The APL people (Above Poverty Line) always compete to be included in BPL (Below Poverty Line). That’s why despite the so called welfare efforts by various governments, poverty never gets reduced, rather it increases. The lifestyle over the years has improved and so the real number of poor has increased as well.

Had there been a real intent for poverty alleviation, the identification of poor would have based on market condition! If we consider market price, then one has to spend a minimum of Rs 15-20 per meal, a meal which ensures minimum nutrition. In a family of four (two adults & two children), the breadwinner would need to make a minimum of Rs 100 per day in order for his family to survive without being hungry! That means Rs 3000 per month is needed just to avoid hunger in his family! For medical requirements, basic education of his/her children and all other minimum requirements, one would need an additional Rs 2000 per month. Thus people who have an income of Rs 5000 per month (Rs 60000 per year) or below should be considered as the poorest people in this country, who need urgent help from the government to uplift their condition!

Thus more appropriate would be fixing poverty line on the basis of the earning of a person having a family of four (dependants), at Rs 60000 per year or less! But how can their poverty can be alleviated? Is it possible by providing subsidized food grains, free electricity & other SOPs, as doled out since years? I don’t think this is a solution. This would again create the situation as discussed above wherein the APL people would be poorer than BPL ones & stiff competition would ensue between these two groups to meet their needs. Thus all money provided as subsidies would be simply wasted and no poverty alleviation would be possible! Then, what is to be done?

Let’s think it out! Let’s scrap all subsidies & SOPs provided to the poor! Let governments initiate programs that make employment generation possible among the poor. Those who are not skilled enough and cannot be employed to earn Rs 5000/- per month, may be provided poverty assistance up to a maximum of Rs 5000 per month for a fixed period,  say three years( for example, if someone earning Rs 2000 per month would be given Rs 3000 per month as poverty assistance & so on).

The point of a fixed tenure of assistance is simple. The state has a responsibility to uplift poor people due to their condition. But that doesn’t mean that state will provide assistance forever because one would prefer to remain poor forever to get assistance from the state opportunistically! The onus now lies on the poor, to improve their condition and rise above the poverty line! If someone couldn’t rise above the poverty line despite such generous assistance, he must be considered a failure, unproductive & useless to the state. Either they should be punished for wasting public money or should be prevented from making use of citizen benefits for such a period, till they come up to the level of the poverty line!

In a democracy although all have democratic rights, no one has guaranteed laziness and unproductive rights, because he/she decided not to get engaged in work! Poverty can’t become an automatic right to get public money forever!

It sounds a bit like dictatorship, doesn’t it? But there is a very fine line which distinguishes democracy and dictatorship from each other! Democracy speaks of all as equal stakeholders. But when some want more benefits than others forever or for a long time, they have to be checked. In a dictatorship everything is decided by the dictator; what he feels is good for the nation, he implements unilaterally. In some cases dictators just see their self -benefit. But in many cases, dictators do implement harsh decisions for the sake of national interest!

In China, although there is a dictatorship, it has been very successful in poverty alleviation, discrediting human right issues that prevail and which are few. On the other hand democracy has always been very successful in bringing about real change when the population is small.

India is a large country with a democracy! I have always loved Indian democracy but I wish it wouldn’t be very soft in handling important issues like poverty alleviation!

As Narendra Modi says, “to be cured from chronic diseases one has to bite bitter pills”, which means harder provisions within a time frame, making every one accountable and punishing the failures are part of these bitter pills. Democracy doesn’t mean soft pedaling, doling out SOPs & subsidies in the name of a welfare state. Every penny spent must be accounted for, else the democracy would collapse. Thus bold steps by the Government may describe us as a dictatorship, but it is the need of the hour if the government has the intent of alleviating poverty in its real sense.

 A civil engineering professional but also is keen observer of current affairs, politics, socio-economical issues, spiritual & cultural issues. Contributed lot of articles in various web-based on line magazines & well appreciated also. In free time, transforms in to activist mode in educating & awaking people on the meaning of democracy, citizen duty to society, nation & Constitution. Love to debate in any issue with open mind. Contact email id-achary.bn@gmail.com

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind