New Delhi: Amid raging controversy over Rs 32 per capita per day poverty line, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has said "it is not all that ridiculous" in Indian conditions.

"The fact is that Rs 4,824 per month for a family (of five persons) to define poverty is not comfortable but it is not all that ridiculous from Indian conditions," Ahluwalia said in a letter to Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati.

Vahanvati has agreed to appear in Supreme Court on behalf of the Planning Commission in connection with the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Right to Food Campaign.

The Planning Commission has drawn flak from several quarters, including civil society for pegging poverty in urban areas at Rs 32 per capita per day. The figure in rural area is Rs 26 a day.

Referring to the criticism on poverty line, he said, "Social activists have vociferously criticised the latest poverty line of Rs 3,905 for rural areas and Rs 4,824 in urban areas as 'cruel joke' by converting the figure into per person per day i.e. Rs 26 and Rs 32 respectively.

"Many people are persuaded by this because they sometimes think of daily allowance as meant for family budget...it does not need to be emphasised that the poverty line is not a comfort line of acceptable living for the aam aadmi (common man). It is poverty line which by definition implies considerable stress."

On states' criticism that Planning Commission is understating poverty, leaving out deserving individuals, Ahluwalia explained, "The fact ...is that states gave many more below poverty line (BPL) cards than their entitlement and what is worse is, they often did not give the cards to deserving people."

On criticism that the poverty line is not adequate to take care of health and education, Ahluwalia said that these facilities are required to be provided free by the state.

"This has always has been the assumption in calculating poverty line. The (Tendulkar) committee should have brought this out more clearly but they did not. It is absolutely that these facilities are often not provided and where they are provided, they are often not availed of, because of poor quality", he said.

The solution to these problems, Ahluwalia said, "lies in improving the provision of public service, ...The solution does not lie in raising the poverty line".

A controversy was triggered after the Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court which said, "a family of five spending less than Rs 4,824 (at June, 2011, prices) in urban areas will fall in the BPL (Below Poverty Line) category. The expenditure limit for a family in rural areas has been fixed at Rs 3,905 (per month)."

Among others, the National Advisory Council (NAC) member Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander challenged the Rs 32 per person poverty definition of the Commission.

Other members of the NAC, which is headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, too, had opposed the Commission's definition.

Ridiculing the Commission's poverty line, NAC member N C Saxena said, "On Rs 32 a day, you know only dogs and animals can live."

He further said, "People who are spending below Rs 32 (a day)... They are poorest of the poor. You can call them destitute, you can call them people living in sub-human
level."

(Agencies)