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Monday, December 2, 2013

UPA’s poverty reduction claim rings hollow

UPA’s poverty reduction claim rings hollow
Congress-led UPA 2 is suffering from a severe dearth of achievements. The National Food Security Bill is an attempt to cover up the failure of close to a decade. It has furthered this gimmick with the propaganda on poverty reduction.
The Food Security Bill is to provide — on paper — food to 67 per cent of India’s population. Rahul Gandhi says the measure is “historic”, considering it is aimed to bring votes to his party.
Questions have been raised about the purpose of the Bill, identification of the beneficiaries, the infrastructure to deliver and the subsidy burden on the rising fiscal deficit.
The masterstroke came from Narendra Modi, who pointed out, “People were not getting two square meals a day. So they have brought a law, irrespective of whether it is possible to give food to the poor… to give people a piece of paper containing a law that they will get food as a matter of right.”
The Congress first successfully carried out this gimmick in the early 1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi coined the catchy slogan of “Garibi Hatao” and won the Lok Sabha elections. It wants to fool the electorate once more on the same plank. The very fact that 67 per cent of India needs food security is a betrayal of their earlier promise.
To overcome the probing questions over the performance of its numerous anti-poverty programmes since independence, the UPA has now sought to use the Planning Commission and has used a rejected formula to measure poverty. The Planning Commission’s poverty figures of 21.9 per cent set off a furious debate in the country where malnutrition affects 46 per cent of the population. If only 21.9 per cent people are poor, what is the rationale for the Food Security Bill? The new criteria adopted by the Plan panel — of Rs. 27 per day for rural and Rs. 33 per day for urban areas — has been challenged and called a fraud on the poor by the government. The panic-driven UPA is still trying to justify the data, insisting that the figures are quite rational.
The lead defence came from actor-turned politician Raj Babbar who said, “Even today in Mumbai I can have a full meal for Rs. 12.” Another Congress leader came up with a more bizarre statement: “You can eat well for Rs. 5.” Faced with national outrage, the Congress tried to distance itself from such enthusiastic observations.
Questions are now being raised about the Planning Commission’s propaganda on poverty reduction. The methodology is questionable. The government needs to answer few straight questions — if the poverty levels have come down, why subsidise foodgrains for 67 per cent of the population? If the government’s poverty figures are correct, why burden the taxpayer by increasing the fiscal deficit by bringing in the Food Security Bill?
Let us not forget that in 1977 the poverty levels were pegged at Rs. 49 per day for rural areas and Rs. 56 per day for urban. After 36 years, and with high inflation, the poverty line norms have come down instead of moving up. The Plan panel poverty data is nothing but an attempt to rescue the government.
It is unfair to doubt the objectivity of the Planning Commission data on poverty reduction or the methodology used in computing it.
Being a BPL person is not a qualification. The poverty line is drawn to ascertain how many of our people continue to languish in the last row as far as the capacity to buy basic food is concerned, food that will give them a basic minimum calories a day, as per the World Bank’s calculation that is applicable throughout the world.
The opposition is fudging data to further their propaganda against UPA’s achievements in this regard. What was the BPL criterion in 2000, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power at the Centre, and in 2004, when they left? What was the number of poor people in the country then? What was the poverty line? It was Rs. 368 per person per month in 2004.This comes to Rs. 12 per person per day. The total BPL population (even under that lower earning data) was 37.2 per cent in 2004-2005. This figure has dropped to 20.9 per cent in 2011-2012. Thus, we can say for sure that poverty is gradually coming down, and that the BPL criterion fixed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, in money terms, is three times more than it was under BJP-led NDA.
The Planning Commission does this exercise on a regular basis in order to ascertain the trend of poverty reduction and its credibility has never been disputed.
The UPA has not been stuck with old methodology for computing poverty reduction figures and has set up the C. Rangarajan Committee to come up with a formula that reflects the consumption patterns of today. It will replace the currently used Tendulkar committee formula.
The criterion of Rs. 816 per person per month for rural areas and Rs. 1,000 per person per month for urban areas does not mean that a person spending Rs. 1,100 is not poor. It is also not a question of whether Rs. 1,000 is sufficient to fill the stomach. The important question is how much resources the country has to support the most needy citizens, and what is it ready to spend on, on behalf of the poor who are standing in the last row.
They surely have the first right over our resources. It also needs to be clarified that 67 per cent coverage under the Food Security Bill indicates that the coverage is for the poor who are above the basic BPL line also.
The number of poor people in India has come down, whatever the claims made by the doubters to the contrary. In the nine years of UPA’s rule, the percentage of decrease is considerable on account of anti-poverty schemes such as the MGNREGA, and other pro-poor programmes. This is not to the liking of UPA’s detractors.


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