The Telegraph
Tuesday , July 8 , 2014
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Poverty estimates trigger debate

Rangarajan: In line of fire

New Delhi, July 7: C. Rangarajan today defended his calculation that three out of 10 in India are poor, saying the poverty numbers provided by him were not conservative estimates and the methodology was on a par with global standards.

The expert group headed by Rangarajan dismissed the Suresh Tendulkar committee’s methodology and estimated that the number of poor in India was much higher in 2011-12 at 29.5 per cent of the population.

The BJP-led government is yet to take a call on the report even as other political parties slammed it.

Criticising the suggestion of the panel that anyone spending less than Rs 47 per day in cities and Rs 32 in villages is poor, NCP leader Praful Patel said in Rajya Sabha today,“The government must clarify if it accepts this report or rejects it. If you reject it, you must say what methodology you would adopt to decide who is poor.”

“What can you do with Rs 47 a day in an urban area. This figure is faulty,” CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said.

BJP’s firebrand leader and the Union minister for water resources Uma Bharti said, “We think the BPL figures are misleading and we will take up the issue with an appropriate forum of the government.”

Besides food expenditure, the Rangarajan committee takes into account people’s spending on health, education, housing, clothing etc. The Tendulkar committee’s methodology was criticised by economists for reducing the calorie intake needed by a normal human and not including spending by disadvantaged groups. Rangarajan has tried to address some of these criticisms.

Academics, however, are not impressed. Prof P. Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, said, “Much of the data is based on assumptions, which show the serious disconnect with the ground reality. They do not reflect the larger social aspect in arriving at these numbers. ... there cannot be an all-India approach to concepts such as poverty and nutritional levels.”

According to Srijit Mishra of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, “The Rangarajan committee has improved upon the previous estimates of poverty calculated by Lakdawala and Tendulkar. He has calculated the number of poor in the country based on calorie and non-food item.”

Economists feel the figures do not add up and the number of poor may have been higher in some states and far lower in others.

Analysts said the broad trend was poverty had declined. Sharp increase in wages because of the rural job guarantee programme and changes in the structure of employment have contributed to the poverty reduction. There was also a shift to non-agriculture employment accompanied by a sharp rise in wages, they said.

Rangarajan himself admits that the levels set by his panel are “not ideal”.

The Rangarajan panel was set up by the previous UPA government following criticism of the Tendulkar report that had fixed the poverty line at a lower level, thereby reducing the number of poor.