Everyone seems upset. Ironically, more upset with the definition of the poverty line and the criteria that has now become the butt of a national joke, are the economists and of course some members of the high-profile National Advisory Council. They have been doing the rounds of the TV channels expressing dismay at the threshold of what Planning Commission constitutes as the poverty line.
I was amused watching them express their concerns. In many ways it is like shedding crocodile tears. Amused because these were the same people who were either responsible for drafting the poverty line or were in a way the silent spectators. They had never challenged the 'below the poverty line' (BPL) criteria. Perhaps by remaining quiet or turning a blind eye to the gross injustice being perpetuated by the planners on country's vast army of poor and downtrodden, these economists stood to gain. I see no other reason why the entire community of economists had silently been using the same fraudulent BPL norms that they now find fault with (believe it or not, some of the most distinguished names are associated with the formulation of the poverty line).
This is what constitutes conspiracy of silence.
I have no hesitation in saying that the entire controversy following the questioning of the BPL norms by the Supreme Court has actually brought the economist class into disgrace. For nearly 50 years, they had not only prepared but also backed a bogus poverty estimate. They went on using the same useless poverty estimates into all their economic analysis. I wonder with such a faulty foundation what kind of analysis these economists must have produced. How reliable is their analysis, perhaps we will get to know provided the Supreme Court now gets into questioning the merits of the econometric analysis (that uses the poverty data) has been churned out in volumes over the years.
I have also keenly followed many of the quick news analysis that many economists and others have written. This was expected. The best way to overcome your guilt is to paint a picture that show how pained you are now to know that Planning Commission's poverty line for urban areas is Rs 31/day and Rs 25/day for the rural areas. If you are earning more than this, you are above the poverty line. In reality, this estimate is nothing but a revised estimate based on the current prices. Otherwise, Tendulkar committee had earlier drawn a line of Rs 19 per day for the urban areas and Rs 14 for the rural areas. The parameters that go into defining this BPL criteria remain the same. (Spend Rs 32 a day? Govt says you can't be poor Times of India Sept 21, 2011 http://bit.ly/qMWYRc).
In an interesting piece Playing with numbers, and lives (Indian Express, Sept 23, 2011) Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat writes: "The National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, had in its draft also included a clause that 'identification will be based on the criteria notified by the Central government'. One wonders whether the veteran activists who were part of the drafting committee in NAC were unaware of the poverty line which at the stage of their drafting was even lower than the Rs 26 line they are so articulately criticising today." She is referring to the public outcry being made by Aruna Roy, Jean Derez and N C Saxena.
I have always considered India's poverty line to be actually a starvation line. For over a decade now, I have been questioning the wisdom of fixing a stringent poverty line in which you can't even feed a dog. How can a human being survive in that amount? But believe me, none of the economists or NAC members (I am not sure of there is an exception) ever stood up to pose the same questions. They were very happy following the poverty prescription laid out. They obviously stood the gain by not questioning the poverty norms.
I have been asked as to what I think should be the way to determine real poverty. You can read what I had to say when the NAC came up with what I consider is yet another faulty path to removing hunger (Path to hell they say is paved with good intentions. http://bit.ly/iB2HDj). I also draw your attention to another article How to keep poverty low http://bit.ly/o60BsA. In my opinion, what India needs is not one poverty line. We need two lines: Poverty Line (what Arjun Sengupta committee worked out at 77 per cent population unable to spend more than Rs 20 a day), and an Antyodaya Line comprising 37.2 per cent of the population (which incidentally is the present poverty line).