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Reading between the Rs32 poverty line

Basant Kumar runs a little shop in a slum in Vasant Vihar, home to over two lakh migrant families. He feeds and clothes his wife and three children on his meagre earnings of Rs5,000 a month.

delhi Updated: Oct 02, 2011 01:39 IST
Hindustan Times

Do these people look well-off to you? The planning commission puts them above poverty line.

Basant Kumar, 51
Kusumpur Pahari slum,
Vasant Vihar, Delhi

Daily expense: Rs 53

Basant Kumar runs a little shop in a slum in Vasant Vihar, home to over two lakh migrant families. He feeds and clothes his wife and three children on his meagre earnings of Rs5,000 a month. He also works odd-jobs, in construction or with halwais, to supplement his income by a few hundred rupees. But the extra money is barely enough for him to make ends meet. The family of five lives in a tiny home, sleeping in a room barely ten feet by ten feet. Kumar can only purchase
second-hand clothes once a year. He borrows electricity from his neighbour, for a single bulb outside his shop. He cannot afford to eat fruit. He has no mobile phone, no scooter or cycle.

When he applied for a ration card, he was given a white APL (Above Poverty Line) card which excludes him from receiving any subsidised rations. “I have to buy it black and eat from black,” he says, as he is compelled each month to buy goods at lower prices from the black market. His helplessness may be compounded. Kumar spends around Rs 53 daily. Going by the Planning Commission’s notion, Kumar is one of thousands of slum-dwellers above the poverty line.

Break up of expenses

Rs 19 on flour, rice and vegetables
Rs 20 on milk, spices
R 8 on edible oil and pulses
Rs 6 on cooking fuel

—Samar Khurshid

Lakshmi Vishkarma
Garland vendor
Kala Ghoda, Mumbai

Daily expense: Rs 32

Lakshmi Vishkarma does not know her exact age and has no birth certificate, but guesses she is about 30 years old. Currently pregnant with her fourth child — her other three are aged five, three and one — she lives on a footpath in Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai’s elite art district. Vishkarma and her husband sell gajras (small flower garlands worn by women in their hair) for a living and earn about Rs70 per day each. Of this, Rs35 is spent on the string and flowers for their gajras, for which they take turns walking to the Bhuleshwar market an hour away every day, so they can buy their materials at wholesale rates. Deciding how to spend the leftover Rs32 is actually very easy, says Vishkarma, laughing.
“It all goes on food.”

The family has virtually no possessions — one large mat to sleep on, two bowls and two plates, some hand-me-down clothes and broken toys for the children. With no roof over their heads, they use a free public toilet nearby. And with no kitchen, they are forced to buy all their food from a government snack stall nearby. The Rs32 buys the family five rotis and a bowl each of rice, dal and vegetable. These are portioned out carefully so that they can be spread out over two meals. “On good days, when we have earned maybe Rs40 on the previous day, we also buy a little tea and bread for breakfast, which costs Rs8.”

Either way, the family says they are always hungry. “Local residents and restaurant owners give us leftovers,” says Vishkarma. With absolutely no money, the children do not go to school. Vishkarma and her husband, who were both born and raised on the pavements too, have never travelled beyond Bhuleshwar.

Break up of expenses

Rs 10 on mogra flowers for gajras
Rs 6 on string for gajras
Rs 5 on rotis to be shared with family
Rs 6 on a plate of dal and rice to be shared with family
Rs5 on a bowl of vegetables to be shared with family

— Riddhi Doshi

Just to provide a contrast, here's what middle class professionals spend

Priya Batra, 38
Head of marketing with an MNC
Noida, National Capital Region

Daily expenses: Rs 1500 approx

Priya Batra, mother of a one-year-old son, lives with her husband in a joint family set-up in Noida. Batra works full-time, contributing to the running of her immediate family along with her husband who’s a director in an insurance firm. Batra earns approximately Rs 3,75,000 a month. She and her husband, earn over a crore a year. They save over 50% of the earnings after deducting basic expenses plus EMIs on two properties. Batra and her husband have a car and driver each to themselves, who are paid Rs10,000 each. Batra’s husband carries lunch from home, while she prefers to order from the office canteen for which she spends Rs50 per day.

Batra’s 5-day work week, includes dropping her son with his full time maid (who is paid Rs4,000 per month) to her parents’ house in Nizammudin. She collects them on her way back from office at around 7 pm. Batra spends around Rs500 on fuel daily. Saturdays are mall days with husband and son, which includes shopping, watching a movie and eating out, which comes to around Rs10,000 per outing. Sundays are easier with guests dropping in at home. Once or twice in a working week Batra orders in or gets takeaways for the entire family, (Rs3,000 per takeaway) while groceries or other household expenses are taken care of by her in-laws. Batra likes splurging on watches and collecting ethnic jewellery which costs above Rs 1,00,000.

Break up of expenses

Rs 1,000 Fuel for two cars
Rs 350 Diapers, wipes and milk powder for her son
Rs 50 Lunch from office cafeteria
Rs 20-100 Parking tickets
A packed dinner from Big Chill for the entire family once a week Rs 3,000
Every Saturday mall trip Rs10,000 which includes movie, meal and shopping (toys and clothes for her son, shoes and clothes for herself)
Eating out on an average of 3-4 times a month with her husband Rs6,000-8,000
Wages for two drivers and two maids - Rs18,000 per month
TV and Wi-Fi subscriptions Rs1,000 a month
Ordering coffee from CCD in office while entertaining clients Rs700 per month
Buying a watch (such as Tag or Omega) once in six months Rs1, 50,000 each
A jewellery piece/set on occasions/festival Rs40,000-Rs2, 00,000 each

- Shalini Singh

Megha Sheth, 27
HR executive
Wadala, Mumbai

Daily expenses: Rs 330

Megha Sheth, 27, an HR executive with a software company, has an MBA degree and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. She has been working for three years. Megha earns Rs31,250 a month and lives with her parents, grandmother, uncle, aunt and two cousins in a 1,500-sq-ft four-bedroom flat in Wadala. She has her own 200-sq-ft room. Shopping is a monthly ritual. “If not clothes, I buy some tech stuff such as a pen drive or an accessory for my phone or for my room,” she says. Each month the shopping bill is around Rs4,000.

She spends another Rs8,000 on recreation, (she is a vegetarian Jain and does not drink). Her outings include a movie or dinner with friends at least twice a week. Her cellphone bill is around Rs600 and she buys fuel for Rs1,500 per month when she takes the family car out on weekends. Conveyance to her office in Vikhroli is another Rs1,200 per month. “I go by bus and come back by train and have to take a rickshaw from the railway station,” she says. Sheth spends about Rs500 a month on snacks. She does not contribute towards household expenses, so despite her expenses she still saves around Rs12,000 every month, which she invests in fixed deposit schemes and mutual funds.

Break up of expenses

Rs40 travelling to office by bus, train and rickshaw
Rs50 petrol expenses everyday
Rs20 mobile bill
Rs15-20 snacks
Rs100-200 shopping
Rs2000 – movies and dinner every week
Rs5000 - Holiday once in two months

— Riddhi Doshi

First Published: Oct 01, 2011 23:13 IST