Who is the poorest Indian?
The government has no idea and it cannot find out either, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) told a retired school teacher from Rajasthan who last year donated Rs 1 lakh to be given to the country’s poorest person.
In February, the government gave Deep Chand Sharma a refund after he insisted that the money go to either the poorest, or at best, one among the 100 poorest.
The PMO said that also was too much of a task.
The wealth of the richest is annually measured. Forbes magazine listed 84 Indian billionaires on the 2016 list led by Mukesh Ambani, the 58-year-old chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd, with a net worth of $19.3 billion.
But there is no data on the poorest yet.
Official data from 2012 put the number of poor Indians at an estimated 363 million or 29.5% of the total population, the highest number of poor people in any country.
Sharma, 63, told Hindustan Times on Friday that he wanted his hard-earned money to go to someone who really needed it. But a month after he sent the money to the PM in June 2015, he was given a receipt for a “donation” to the PM’s relief fund, a reserve pool used to help the needy.
The angry Sikar resident promptly filed a right to information application, to know why the money meant for the poor went into the fund.
When he didn’t get the answers he was looking for, Sharma moved the central information commission (CIC) in November: he not only wanted the information but also a token penalty on the PMO official who violated a 30-day deadline to provide information.
The phone call from the PMO came soon after.
“I told them to return the money if they couldn’t even locate one of the 100 poorest Indians,” said the Sikar resident, who claims to get a Rs 13,000 pension for being jailed during Emergency. He gets another pension for the years he spent as a teacher.
At a hearing presided by chief information commissioner RK Mathur this week, the PMO indicated that nobody paid much attention to Sharma’s letter accompanying the cheque and asked for the case to be closed since they had already refunded the money.