NEW DELHI: Poverty could end Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s run in the corridors of power. The latest estimates of the Planning Commission have been fiercely criticised by the UPA’s allies and its opponents.
Plan panel officials are eager to pass the buck. “Most politicians are ill-informed, they either do not understand or wilfully overlook the fact that we’re constitutionally bound to follow the Tendulkar formulations to arrive at the poverty estimates,” one of them points out, adding that poverty estimation is not as straightforward as issuing SC/ST certificates.
The Montek supporters in the Plan panel are so upset that they say a “confused” government is again leading people up the garden path by claiming that a technical group can evolve a fresh set of parameters to determine poverty levels in the next three months. “The procedure would take at least nine months and concurrence from the states—without which it cannot be done,” officials close to the deputy chairman said.
The plan panel recently reduced the poverty line to `28.65 (per day/person) in the urban areas (for a family of five) and `19.29 in rural areas. This is much less than what the plan panel had itself said in its affidavit on the poverty line given to the Supreme Court in June 2011—`32 in urban areas and Rs 26 for rural India.
The reason the Planning Commission gives to lowering the BPL even further, is the earlier figure did have the NSSO’s household consumption expenditure survey with it at that point of time.
The decline in numbers between the period of 2004-05 and 2009-10 as shown by the Planning Commission is sharpest in any five-year term. Some would call it the poverty of estimation—since at least the yardstick for measurement has to remain constant for one to compare across year-blocks—but this is what the Plan panel would have us believe.
The real issue, of course, is that the government—hit hard by the economic downturn—has fewer funds to disburse for the Congress leadership’s expensive hobby horses, such as MGNREGA and the National Rural Health Mission. There’s less money available for free education grants, rural roads and electrification. So we have this strange spectacle: as the economy declines, so does the number of the poor. Even though it defies logic.