The way number of poor in India is measured is under a legal scrutiny. The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government in Right To Food case the efficacy of the below poverty line survey, to be held in June this year, if all the poor identified fail to get government benefit.
The court asked the government to give reasons for the Planning Commission putting up a cap on the number of poor in India, which many believe is unrealistic.
The petitioner had termed the plan panel estimation as incorrect saying the number of poor families identified during the BPL surveys is much higher that the estimate.
The Central government defines uniform criteria for identification of poor through a BPL survey across India.
The court's observation has come at the time when the Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council is in the process of finalizing the proposed National Food Security law and the rural development ministry is getting the BPL survey done in this June.
The panel estimates the number of poor on basis of National Sample Survey Office's sample survey of expenditure and fixes state-wise number of poor.
The state governments get food grains for the Public Distribution System as per the panel's estimate even if the actual number in the state is higher than the estimate.
As per 2004-05 NSSO survey, those spending less than Rs 12 a day in rural India and those spending less than Rs 17 a day in rural India, were categorized as poor. It meant that 27.5% of Indians were poor.
Subsequently, the commission constituted a committee headed by S C Tendulkar to rework the formulae for determining poor. It listed 46% of Indians poor on basis of daily spending on food, sanitation and education.
The expenditure was Rs 15 per day for an individual in rural India and Rs 19 in urban areas.
The government in 2010 accepted the report but is yet to notify the new poverty estimation, which will make Tendulkar committee figures applicable to all Central government schemes.
The petitioner, People's Union for Civil Liberties, said the National Commission for Enterprise in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) had recommended that all social security schemes benefit should be extended to those, whose per capita per day expenditure is less than Rs 20.
The commission had identified 77% of the country's population in this category.
The different poverty figures has baffled the government, which has asked ministries to use only planning commission figure of 27% in all its communications.
The court asked the government counsel Mohan Parasaran to file an affidavit by March 29 on all these issues.