Top economists have termed the Planning Commissions benchmark -- per capita expenditure of Rs 32 in urban areas and Rs 26 in rural areas -- for measuring poverty as “unacceptable”.
The panel’s affidavit in the Supreme Court defining poverty line had created a controversy with observers saying that it was impossible for a person to survive for a day in this meager amount, even though the panel says the expenditure should be considered for a family of five, instead of per capita.
Adding to the criticism, a statement which has economists working with the government as signatories, said irrespective of the methodology adopted to measure poverty, the number of poor and hungry people in the country remains unacceptably large.
Seeking to de-link poverty estimation with subsidized food entitlement, the economists said official surveys of nutrition intakes and outcomes indicate that under-nutrition was much more widespread than income poverty.
“While academic debates can continue on the appropriate measure of poverty in India, its extent and whether it is decreasing over time, we strongly believe that it is unacceptable and counterproductive to link the official poverty estimates to basic entitlements of the people, especially access to food,” said the statement, signed by former University Grants Commission (UGC) chairperson Sukhdeo Thorat, social economist Jayati Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ashok Mitra, former West Bengal finance minister and G S Bhalla, former plan panel member.
They also said that the targeted Public Distribution System (PDS) introduced since 1997 has done more harm than good by creating divisions even among the poor and has led to massive errors of exclusion.
Recent evidence clearly establishes that states which have moved towards near universalisation of the PDS have performed much better in increasing off-take and reducing leakages, they said.
The 27 signatories to the statement said that restoring the universal PDS was the best way forward in combating hunger and poverty. “This is not only feasible within the available fiscal space of the Union government but must be a policy priority in the backdrop of high and persistent food price inflation,” the statement read.