India's poor will now be defined on the basis of access to six basic amenities, in addition to the amount of food they consume.
The Centre has decided to redefine poverty as deprivation by including access to facilities like education, health, infrastructure, clean environment and benefits for women and children.
“In the new system, poverty would be measured with reference to basic facilities like quality education, good health sectors and clean drinking water availability,” Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission, told the Hindustan Times.
The new index will be used in the next round of the countrywide National Sample Survey conducted to gauge poverty.
The current index measures poverty mainly on the basis of the number of calories consumed, income and the kind of dwelling.
It fails to reflect the number of people in India who don’t have access to the basic facilities enshrined in the Constitution.
To provide a broader national picture of deprivation, rather than absolute poverty, the commission has decided to incorporate 27 national targets under six essential sectors.
The official admitted that the percentage of the deprived is likely to be greater than the percentage of those defined as poor using the current indices.
But he added that this would reflect the true state of the country and help the government formulate more inclusive policies.
The percentage of poor in 2004-05 was 21.8 of the country’s population. This came down to 20.4 per cent in 2005-06.
“The reduction in the poverty ratio is 1.4 percentage points, which is almost double of the trend observed between 1993-94 and 2004-05. This is mainly because of the high growth rate,” said K.L.Datta, an advisor in the commission.
Ahluwalia said 97 per cent of students who enrol at the primary level drop out by the time they reach the level by higher education. And 65% drop out by the time they reach the secondary school level.
The new index, he said, will help the government formulate “multi-dimensional approach” to check deprivation.
Among the 27 targets set out for the Eleventh Plan are a sustained nine per cent growth rate, an agriculture growth rate of four per cent that can lead to 20 per cent increase in the wage rate of unskilled workers.
In the education sector, the targets include lowering the drop-out rate by 20 per cent by 2011-12, developing minimum education standards for all schools, increasing the literacy rate for persons of seven years or more to 85 per cent and increasing the enrolment ratio in higher education to 15 per cent.
Under the health sector, the objectives are halving the malnutrition rate of 40.4 per cent, providing clean drinking water to all by 2009 and reducing the fertility rate to 2.1 per cent. Infrastructure goals are providing electricity to all families below the poverty line by 2009 and providing broadband facilities in all villages by 2015.