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Less poverty; malnutrition stubbornly high

Consumption has improved across urban and rural population, and more so for the latter. Despite the apparent reduction in poverty, malnutrition — measured by underweight children below three years — has “remained stubbornly high.” Varghese K George reports.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2009 02:08 IST
Varghese K George

The Economic Survey 2008-09 claimed significant reduction in poverty — both rural and urban — since 2004, when the Congress came to power.

Based on comparisons of monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) in 2004 and 2007, the survey said consumption patterns are indicative “not only of favourable poverty reduction trends but also of the inclusive nature of growth.” “Consumption has improved across urban and rural population and more so for the latter,” the survey found. (SEE BOX)

The survey said the “notion of inclusive growth relates essentially to equality of opportunity to all for a productive and meaningful life with freedom and dignity. It’s much broader than the objective of poverty alleviation,” and admitted that despite apparent reduction in poverty, malnutrition — measured by underweight children below three years — has “remained stubbornly high.” It was 47 per cent in 1998 and 45.9 in 2006.

The ruling party was quick to endorse the suggestion, but the opposition BJP reserved comment. “The UPA is keeping the aam aadmi in focus and is persevering in its target of building an inclusive society,” said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari.

During the NDA rule between 1999 and 2004, social sector spending as a proportion of GDP had declined. The BJP-led alliance faced enormous public wrath and was defeated in the 2004 elections. Congress fought the 2004 elections promising to distribute the benefits of growth to the aam aadmi and increased spending in rural employment, health, education, after coming to power.

The central government’s social sector expenditure has increased from 11.23 per cent in 2002-03 to 19.44 per cent in 2008-09, reflecting higher priority to it. As percentage of GDP, it has increased from 19.3 per cent to 24.1 per cent during the same period.

The aam admi, in a thanksgiving gesture, voted the Congress to a higher majority in May 2009, belying all predictions of anti-incumbency. “It was a pro-incumbency vote. The Congress has given a stake for the poor in the country’s development. Growth that does not touch the lives of commoners has no meaning. The Lok Sabha results were an approval of our policies,” said Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh.

While the BJP said it would respond to the survey on Friday, the Left parties were quick to denounce it as marking a “rightward shift.” “This is anti-poor and anti-labour,” said CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta.

The survey has called for several measures, including reforming public distribution system, flexible labour laws and disinvestment, that the Left had vetoed.

The survey clearly signals a resolve by the UPA government — now not at the mercy of the Left — to press ahead with some unfinished task.