During the hearing of redressal of the shortcomings of the Public Distribution System in the Supreme Court, the affidavit of the Planning Commission has startled the country saying that people spending Rs 32 a day in urban areas and Rs 26 in rural areas would be deemed to be above the poverty line. Both the Planning Commission and the Centre drew flak owing to this affidavit. Everyone showered disagreement with the government. However, the Supreme Court is trying for long to streamline the Public Distribution System. In this regard, the Apex Court had once said that it would be better to distribute grains among the poor than let them decay in the government godown. The government rebutted it stating that the SC should not intervene the strategic issues. The remark made by the Apex Court was ignored and foodgrains were left decaying the godowns. However, the government seems to be determined to improve the Public Distribution System, now the message is rife that the ruling dispensation wants to show the reduced number of the poor populace. The Planning Commission has put up its affidavit following the suggestion of the Suresh Tendulkar committee in order to cut off subsidy given to grains available at lower price. It is quite surprising that they did not try to understand that the affidavit would hit the hornet’s nest.

These questions have always hit controversy that what is the exact number of the poor and what should be the yardstick to decided the line of poverty? This is the reason that there are different data on the number of poverty. There is no consensus between the Centre and states in this connection. On the one hand the Centre pins blame on the states that they exaggerate the number of poor in order to get maximal subsidy, on the other states have grudges against the Centre that they want to show less number of the poor so as to give inadequate subsidy. It is difficult to say how this issue would be sorted out, but it is well known that the Public Distribution System has become synonymous with corruption, wastage and black-marketing. Those who are indeed poor and not able to manage two square meals, do not get even foodgrains at cheaper rate. The Planning Commission and the Central government are creaking under pressure of rising load of subsidy. Some time back the Finance Minister himself said a payment would directly be made to the poor in order to check the misuse of subsidy. Though this programme has been started on experimental basis, it is assumed that opening accounts for all the poor and crediting money to their accounts are somewhat cumbersome task. There is a perception that states can correct the Public Distribution System, if they want. Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh are the best examples of it to follow. Despite all these, this is pertinent, what should be the yardstick to measure the poverty. The Tendulkar committee fixed the poverty on the basis of the amount of calories and expenses in education-health respectively. According to the Planning Commission, there were 40 crore poor people in 2005, but the national sample survey says that the number of the poor could be more than this figure. It is disappointing that our leaders and bureaucrats are not able to measure the exact number of the poor.

Most of the organizations fixe the parameter of poverty on the basis of amount of calorie in food. According to the TD Lakdawala committee, person taking 2100 calorie a day in urban areas and 2400 calorie in the rural areas are not considered poor. Some global organizations measure the poverty in different fashion. According to the reports of the World Health Organisation and United Nations Human Development Index, the number of malnourished people is increasing. In such a situation, this claim looks funny that life could be sustained in mere Rs 32 or 26. The Planning Commission has its estimation, if people spending Rs 4800 per month in urban areas would not be considered poor. Is the Planning Commission not familiar with the fact that there is only one breadwinner in most of the families? Nowadays, person earning Rs 10000-12000 feel difficulty eking out two square meals. For such families, giving proper education seems to be a dream.

We hear for long that India is a poor country. Today when the world acknowledges that India is a fast growing economy, we still get to hear that the poverty is widely spread in the country. It does not mean that there is a dearth of fund in the country, but corruption and black-marketing have eclipsed development and public welfare schemes. The subsidy is a great challenge for the government from economic point of view. Today, the economic situation of the world is chaotic owing to the subsidy. Right now our economy is strong, but it does not help the poor. The accountability to eradicate poverty is conspicuous by its absence in the government system. It is also a matter of great dismay that there is reluctance in building the infrastructure in the field of agriculture.

Poverty is a blot on the nation. It is matter of great shame for the people of the country that India is ranked with the poor African countries regarding malnourishment and poverty. In such a situation, there is no sense of making claim that India is emerging a powerful nation. There is a need to end this paradox before long. This will be possible when political parties stop passing the buck and instead work together. The political parties are responsible for the rampant poverty in the country. Despite all efforts, the poverty has deeply gripped India since the Independence. It is now clear that the UPA government is not doing as good as it did in its first term for eradicating poverty. With recession looming large, it has become more difficult to remove poverty from the country. Another big issue is that the move made by many ministries for shouldering responsibilities in their respective departments have intervened the policies of the government’s earnestness of taking note of the plight of the poor and giving concrete benefits to them.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on September 18, 2011 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)