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Redefine Indian poverty benchmark, says study

The present low poverty line only serves the purpose of making the government look good, says study.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 17:52 IST

Terming the Indian official poverty line outdated, a think tank in New Delhi has called for "realistic" figures and said it should be pegged at a per capita expenditure of Rs 840 ($19) a month.

"The realistic poverty line that we propose along with these access parameters will provide a real, more inclusive and clear picture of poverty in India," said the Centre for Policy Alternatives in a study titled "Redefining Poverty".

According to the study's authors, Mohan Guruswamy and Ronald Joseph Abrahama, the existing poverty line based on intake of calories is not the right way to go about defining how poor people are.

As of December 2005, the poverty lines after adjusting for inflation were Rs.368 and Rs.559 per person respectively for rural and urban areas.

"These official poverty lines in India are, however, woefully unsatisfactory and should be renamed 'starvation lines'.

"This is because apart from factoring around 650 grams of foodgrains every day, this line makes very little provision for the other essentials of life."

Saying a true definition of poverty should include all the basic needs of human life with a modest modicum of quality, it said a person should be deemed poor in India if he or she has a monthly per capita expenditure less than Rs 840 or does not have access to drinking water, proper shelter, sanitation, quality secondary education or an all-weather road with public transport.

The Rs 840 is made up of minimum costs for nutrition (Rs 573), health (Rs 30), clothing (Rs 17), energy consumption (Rs 55) and miscellaneous expenditure (Rs 164).

"The Indian state needs to revisit its concept of poverty," the study said.

"The present unrealistically low poverty line only serves the purpose of making the government and its development efforts - or the lack of it - look good.

"If the state is as committed to the task of ridding the country from the ills of poverty as it claims, it should start by redefining the current poverty line. This will ensure that the government gets its priorities straight and is able to target policy effectively.

"This calls for a paradigm shift in the sphere of development policy in this country," the study said. "A shift that is imperative if we truly wish for a New India."

The study warned that even the poverty line of Rs 840 a month "only partially reveals the true state of poverty in India.

"A person spending more than Rs 840 per month does not necessarily have access to all the fundamental needs of life."

But at the suggested expenditure level, nearly 79 per cent of India's current total population would be below the poverty line, the study said.

This "is over two-and-a-half times the present official poverty rate of 26.1 per cent. "The situation in rural India is much worse with over 84 percent of the rural populace below this more realistic poverty line."

The study gave some grim reminders about Indian poverty: 37.7 per cent of Indian households do not have access to a nearby water source; 49 per cent do not have a proper shelter; 69.5 per cent do not have access to suitable toilets; 85.2 per cent of Indian villages do not have a secondary school; and 43 percent of the villages do not have an all-weather road connecting them.

The study also said that the poverty line should be updated every five years.

"The aim ... is to define poverty in India in a manner that visualizes it in more human and humane terms rather than the animal life levels of the present definition."

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 11:20 IST