The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the Planning Commission, asking it to explain how the percentage of people below poverty line (BPL) was fixed at 36% and how their purchasing power has remained unchanged since 1991.
Mithun, 11, poses for a photo at a laterite brick mine in Ratnagiri district, about 360km (224 miles) south of Mumbai. He is paid two rupees per brick and carries an average of 100 bricks out of the mine per day.
Judge Dalveer Bhandari and judge Deepak Verma asked deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to file within a week an affidavit explaining the Planning Commission's position.
The apex court bench asked the Planning Commission if it knew what the purchasing power of the people was in 2011 and what it was in 1991.
The court said several states, including Congress-ruled ones, have disputed the 36 % figure and argued that people living below the poverty line were much more in numbers.
The court said that states have said that their own figures were based on the parameters set by the Planning Commission.
"We have affidavits of all the states which have said that BPL figures were much larger than 36% even on the basis of the parameters set by the Planning Commission," the court said.
Calling it very disturbing, the court asked the Planning Commission to clarify how it divides the population on the basis of BPL and APL (Above Poverty Line) and how it has fixed a cap of 36%.
"It is astonishing how you fix that 36% population is in BPL category."
The court asked how could it be justified that people in BPL category could survive on Rs. 20 per head a day in urban areas and on Rs. 11 in rural areas.
The court said that while India was "a powerful economy, yet starvation deaths are taking place in many parts of the country. What a stark contradiction in our approach? How can there be two Indias?"
The court's observation came in the wake of a petition by People's Union for Civil Liberties which contended that adequate foodgrain were not being given to the people living below the poverty line. It also challenged the Planning Commission estimates of the BPL families.
The court declined to accept the plea by additional solicitor general Mohan Prasaran that malnutrition was decreasing in the country.
The court said: "We are very much concerned about malnutrition. Malnutrition has increased in large parts of the country including Maharashtra, Bihar and Orissa."
It further asked Prasaran to examine the causes of malnutrition among children. "You say that they (malnourished children) are coming down. That is not the answer. It had to be eliminated."
The court asked if the central government, as a one time measure, could allocate additional food grains for 150 poorest districts in the country to eradicate malnutrition.