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Much riches in rags

india Updated: Oct 08, 2011 23:40 IST
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Me: Welcome to this conference on poverty. Let me begin by saying how touched I am with the concern for the poor shown by everybody. I'm happy the misunderstanding about the Planning Commission's definition of poverty has now been resolved.

Economist: Yes, it's been resolved in the best way possible. They have decided to set up a committee to look into the results of the socio-economic and caste census to identify the poor.

Me: Very thoughtful of them.

Politician: Oh, we've always cared deeply for the poor. We've been doing so ever since Independence. Nehru cared for them, Indira Gandhi cared immensely, Vajpayee was devoted to them and I carry on that compassionate tradition. We all love anti-poverty programmes.

Economist: The poor will always occupy a special place in the hearts of economists. It all started with Dadabhai Naoroji's paper on 'Poverty of India' in 1876, followed by the poverty estimates of the National Planning Committee (NPC) of the Congress in 1938, followed by the Working Group of Eminent Economists (WGEE) in 1962 who took into account the recommendations of the Nutrition Advisory Committee (NAC) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in 1958, followed by eminent economists Dandekar and Rath (D&R) in 1971 in their seminal work on poverty. The "Task Force on Projections of Minimum Needs and Effective Consumption Demand" (TFPMNECD) of the Perspective Planning Division (PPD) in 1979 then redefined the poverty line. Then we had the Lakdawala Committee (LC), aka the Expert Group on Estimation of Proportion and Number of Poor (EGEPNP) in 1993. Since then we have had the Arjun Sengupta report, the Saxena committee report, various World Bank reports and the Tendulkar committee report.

Me: Wow!

Activist: We NGOs too have been doing a lot to reduce poverty. I represent the third generation in the poverty business. My granddad worked for the World Bank, my dad for the Ford Foundation and I'm with a foreign NGO.

Banker: I, too, am third generation in anti-poverty finance. My grandpa was in a regional rural bank, my dad is into micro-credit, while I'm doing financial inclusion.

Economist: I'm working on a paper on the structural causes of malnutrition that I will present at a seminar in Geneva. That's immediately after I attend a global conference on poverty in Acapulco.

Me: Can I come too? I'm often mistaken for an economist during my more depressed moments.

Activist: The important thing is government handouts will not just be for those below the poverty line.

Me: Can I too get handouts, in addition to those on LPG and diesel?

Economist: Basically, the poverty line says those who are below it are poor, but those above it are also entitled to subsidies meant for the poor.

Me: Oh, the poverty line is dodgy?

Economist: No, the line is fine.

Politician: The non-poor too have votes, you know.

Activist: Those who are above the poverty line too may be poor, you see.

Me: Ah, they are both poor and non-poor. Like Schrodinger's cat, who could be alive and dead at the same time.

Politician: I know a lot of BPL card holders who are like that.

Me: Well, that's it then. I think we can sum up by recalling what the Bible says: "The poor you will always have with you."

All: Amen.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint

Views expressed by the author are personal