What can be bought for Rs. 19 in current times when commodity costs are skyscrapping high and inflation rate is consistently in double-digits ? One cannot even buy a litre of milk for Rs. 19, forget about having an entire meal. But that is the cut-off our planning commission has given for ‘Below Poverty Line’ families. What it means is that any family spending more than Rs. 578 a month on their basic needs cannot be termed as poor. And this is the limit is for urban people. In rural areas, this figure is even lower at Rs. 15 a day for all expenses put together. By this definition, they basically only want to deem them as poor, who are assured to be dead by the time relief reaches them.
The Planning Commission would love to hide the country’s poor in plain sight. Despite escalating prices of food, fuel and clothing, the commission claimed in a recent deposition before the Supreme Court that anyone who earns Rs 578 or more in a month cannot officially be called poor. Out of this sum, the commission advocates an allocation of Rs 31 for rent and conveyance, Rs 18 for education, Rs 25 for medicines and Rs 36.50 for food.
If we push the criterion up to the international standard spending of $ 1.25 a day, about 45% of the Indian population is extremely poor. What can one infer out of the Planning Commission’s stand? Is it sheer ignorance of the reality or a calculated strategy? If the level of poverty can’t be reduced, lower the criteria to such an extent that most of the poverty will remain underestimated and hence unreported. The best way of eradicating poverty is to change the way it is defined. Well, we need to look good for foreign investments, after all.