Redefine Indian Poverty Benchmark, Says Study
New Delhi: Terming the Indian official poverty line outdated, a think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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
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