Rural people have driven India's record decline of 7.4 percentage points in the number of poor since economic reforms were initiated in the early 1990s.
The latest poverty estimates by the Planning Commission show that 29.8% or 360 million Indians were poor in 2009-10 as compared to 37.2% or 400 million in 2004-05 — the difference being equal to the population of countries such as Spain, Argentina and Canada.
The plan panel defines the poor as one who spends less than Rs. 28 per day in urban areas and Rs. 22.5 in rural areas.
These figures are lower than the Rs. 32 in urban areas and Rs. 26 in rural areas for the year 2010-11, given to the Supreme Court by the panel. The annual fall in poverty during the period under survey was 1.4 percentage points as compared to 0.8 percentage points between 1993 and 2004.
The data shows that non-UPA-ruled states, except Maharashtra, have done better than UPA-ruled states.
Uttar Pradesh and five northeastern states were the only ones where the number of poor increased.
Plan panel deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia attributed the decline to the UPA government's “successful” inclusive growth strategy.
Panel officials gave two reasons for the decline — the per capita income doubling in these five years as compared to 10 years earlier and a rapid decline in fertility rates. “A smaller family with more income is prosperous,” an official explained.
But social activists are not impressed. Biraj Patnaik, the Supreme Court’s food commissioner described the figures as an insult to the poor and unrealistic.
“Can someone survive for a day on Rs. 28 in urban areas and R22.5 in rural areas?” he asked, adding that the data will create “needless controversy and confusion”.