Monday, May 30, 2011

New Definitions of Poverty

The Planning Commission's new definition of poverty will exclude a large section of the poor. The new definition released yesterday will effectively deny welfare rights to a large portion of those who currently derive sustenance from subsidies. The Tendulkar report does away with the old methodology. The earlier determinant was calorie-intake; now it is apparently primarily expenditure per person. The newly-defined urban limit of 870 and rural limit of 675 rupees per person per month are literally starvation-levels. This exclusionary policy will hit the urban poor the hardest, because despite their relatively higher-level expenditures per person, their dependence on public distribution food is great. In justifying the new parameters, the commission cites the target-groups "better served" - the homeless, the disabled poor, the street-dwellers. The homeless do not possess and have no access to ration cards that give them food entitlements. Most of the dispossessed do not even use the public distribution system. Those who do will be denied their basic entitlements hereafter. The petition in the Supreme Court challenging the commission's new estimates (according to which only 37% of the country can be classified as poor, as opposed to 55% or 70% - estimates made by other independent committees) is a window of opportunity - this is a cruel economic policy.

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