After the Opposition, the government is now facing criticism of the planning commission's latest poverty figures from Congress leaders.
Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh on Saturday joined telecom and law minister Kapil Sibal in trashing the criteria for fixing the poverty line, prompting the government to say it hasn't accepted the figures yet.
Amid this, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha dragged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh into the debate, asking: "How did the planning commission come out with these outlandish figures without the approval of its chairman, the prime minister of India? So, if the PM is a party to this obnoxious drama, what is everybody else in the government doing?"
Playing down the controversy by pointing out that the data was based on the calculations of an expert committee, minister of state for planning Rajeev Shukla said, "The government has not accepted or fixed these figures, based on methodology adopted by the Suresh Tendulkar committee. When no decision has been taken, why this hue and cry by the Opposition?"
The Centre also made it clear that none of its social welfare schemes and poverty eradication programmes would be affected by these figures.
"I have always failed to understand the planning commission's criteria for fixing the poverty line. It is too abstract, can't be the same for all areas," tweeted Singh.
"The first indicator of poverty is malnourishment and anaemia in the family, which is easily measurable. Can't we have that as a criteria?"
His comments came a day after Sibal said in Kolkata, "If the planning commission says those living above Rs 5,000 a month are not on the poverty line, obviously there is something wrong with the definition of poverty in this country. How can anybody live on Rs 5,000?"
The plan panel earlier this week released figures showing the number of poor in India declined from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 21.9% in 2011-12. It said a family of five with a consumption expenditure above Rs 4,080 a month in rural areas and Rs 5,000 in urban areas would be considered above the poverty line.
This - coupled with remarks by Congress leaders Raj Babbar and Rasheed Masood and Union minister Farooq Abdullah that one could eat well for Rs 12, Rs 5 and even Rs 1 - had drawn sharp criticism from the BJP and other opposition parties, and even UPA ally NCP.
Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal said, "The Centre is making fun of the poor. Where can you get food for Rs 5 in this country?"