G. Srinivasan

New Delhi, Nov 28

With the country's decadal headcount operations set for 2011 to ascertain the resident citizens as also the level and scale of their status, there is still no realistic assessment of the country's poor as available estimates on poverty vary widely.

Different estimates

As of now, different poverty estimates made in the country are based on different perceptions and methodologies, adding to the difficulty of arriving at some reasonably precise estimates.

Arjun Sengupta panel

The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) said that about 836 million or 77 per cent of the population had a per capita consumption of up to Rs 20 a day in 2004-05.

In response to a query in the Lok Sabha on November 24, the Minister of State for Planning, Mr V. Narayanaswamy, said that this Committee, headed by Dr Arjun Sengputa, did not provide any justification for using the cut-off amount of Rs 20 a day and its estimate of 77 per cent is also “erroneous since the percentage works out to only 60.5 per cent”.

Saxena committee

The Ministry of Rural Development-appointed expert group, headed by Dr N.C. Saxena, also made the suggestion that the national level poverty ratio can be assumed at 50 per cent, a point disputed by the Minister in the House when he said that “this was not based on any specific justification”.

world bank report

A World Bank-calibrated poverty line of $1.25-a-day in 2008 put India's poverty percentage at 41.6 per cent in 2005, while the latest Human Development Report 2010 of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), using a new multidimensional poverty index (MPI) incorporating deprivation in terms of health, education and standard of living, estimated the headcount ratio of MPI at 55.4 per cent.

Even as the NCEUS, Saxena Committee, the World Bank and the UNDP estimates of India's poverty percentage provided a range between 42 per cent and 77 per cent, the Planning Commission remains, by far, the nodal government agency to estimate the number and proportion of people living below the poverty line at the national and State levels separately for rural and urban areas.

Tendulkar panel

Its expert group, under the chairmanship of Prof Suresh D. Tendulkar, came out with its head-count ratio for 2004-05 at 41.8 per cent rural poverty head count ratio, at 25.7 per cent for urban and at 37.2 per cent at all-India level.

The Tendulkar Committee recomputed the poverty lines for rural and urban areas on the basis of per capita consumption expenditure of Rs 446.68 and Rs 578.80 a month respectively for the year 2004-05.

Experts said that the Tendulkar Committee's recomputed poverty lines, though slightly higher than the Plan panel's earlier expert group (Lakdawala Committee) poverty lines for rural and urban areas at Rs 356.30 and Rs 538.60 a month respectively, are still lower than the Rs 20 a day count of Sengupta Committee.

Aam aadmi

With the UPA Government running its second term on the ‘aam aadmi' or inclusive growth strategy plank, there is still no solid estimate about the actual number of people below the poverty line as there are multiple estimates confounding the authorities as to how and to whom to target social welfare benefits schemes.

Since most of the estimates, other than the official estimate of the Plan panel that pegged the poverty ratio at 27.5 per cent in 2004-05, have a range swinging between 37 per cent and 60.5 per cent as conceded by the Minister of State for Planning, this high proportion of poor people and their unmet demands should govern the concern of the Planning Commission.

This is all the more important now than ever before as it is the penultimate year of the 11 {+t} {+h} Plan with the Plan panel getting ready to prepare an approach paper to the Twelfth Plan shortly, policy experts say.

geeyes@thehindu.co.in

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 29, 2010)
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