1.The Poverty Trap

Jean Drèze, Hindustan Times

In the good old days, the poverty line was a relatively simple concept. By and large, it was just a statistical benchmark for making ‘poverty comparisons’ — for instance, to track poverty over time, or to compare poverty levels in different parts of the country.

Many of these comparisons are not particularly sensitive to the choice of poverty line, within a reasonable range. There is even a situation going by the odd name of ‘first-order stochastic dominance’, which arises when the relevant comparison holds for any poverty line. For instance, Bihar is clearly poorer than Punjab, wherever one draws the line.

The choice of poverty line, therefore, was not particularly controversial. One widely used initial benchmark was the level of per capita expenditure required to meet pre-specified calorie norms. One may or may not like this benchmark (the calorie ‘norms’ themselves are quite shaky), but at least it was fairly transparent.

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2.Because poverty looks different now

SL Rao, Indian Express

The uproar over the Planning Commission’s decision about how many are really poor, and who will be supplied free (or cheap) grain, points to the need for better data for identifying the poor.

The poor are also consumers of manufactured goods. Approximately one-fourth of the around 14 million officially-designated “poor” urban households own a two-wheeler; one-third own a colour television; and almost two-thirds own a pressure cooker. Almost one in five urban official “poor” households has at least one well-educated member, a graduate or above. The 56 million-strong rural BPL population too exhibits varying degrees of consumption. While every tenth household has a two-wheeler, every fifth BPL village has a kitchen, and about 6 per cent of rural poor households have a colour TV. There is thus clear ambiguity about what poverty, urban or rural, is.

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3.Playing with numbers, and lives

Brinda Karat

The Planning Commission, headed by the prime minister, has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court quantifying the daily poverty line for an adult as Rs 26 in rural, and Rs 32 in urban India. At today’s relentlessly increasing prices, Rs 26 will not get a manual worker even one nutritious meal a day — leave alone the 2,400 calories he is required to eat to enable him to work, according to ICMR standards. Some years ago, in the tribal areas of Udaipur in Rajasthan, studies on the impact of drought on deprivation levels showed that members of tribal families had to take turns to eat, and at times an adult ate only once in two or even three days. This is the hunger standard that the Planning Commission wants to impose throughout the country — that if you and your children eat more than once a day you cannot be considered poor.

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Source: http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/850387/



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