Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has called for removal of ceilings on poverty estimation, which restrict the number of poor who can claim benefits from government schemes.
His ministry is currently conducting a decennial (once in 10 years) census of the country's rural poor and a similar exercise will be launched for the first time in urban areas soon.
But what is becoming a political issue is the planning commission's acceptance of the report of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, which pegged the proportion of BPL people at 37.2% of the country's population, with respective state-wise limits.
The committee's estimates are based on the consumer expenditure survey of 2004-05 conducted by the National Sample Survey.
The states are opposing this limit on the number of poor people who would be entitled to the central government's schemes and subsidies such as foodgrains under the public distribution system (PDS).
The government is also working on a food security bill whose cost analysis is based on Tendulkar's cut-offs.
Various state governments want the BPL survey to be the basis for fixing the number of poor to give them access to central schemes.
Congress states like Andhra Pradesh, which categorised 80% of its people as poor, disagreed with the cap of 29.9% on the state.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who says that a large number of people in his state are poor, is leading the protest.
With the planning commission not being persuaded by his arguments, the chief minister has sought Ramesh's support.
"Poverty numbers constructed by sampling consumer expenditure cannot be expected to correspond to numbers emerging from a census. Caps are arbitrary, divisive and theoretically unjustified," Kumar wrote in a letter to Ramesh.
Ramesh told HT he endorsed Kumar's arguments.
"I opine there should be no prior caps. I am discussing the issue with the Planning Commission," he said.
The commission's point is it that there needs to be a prescribed limit as the Centre cannot provide for everyone categorised as poor by the states.
Kumar said that the overall fiscal burden on the Centre is manageable without caps as at the all-India level, the BPL survey increases poverty numbers by only 4% over Tendulkar's estimates.