With no official data, India is in dark about poverty numbers

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on October 30, 2019

The Global Hunger Index brought to fore the lack of fresh data on how the country has been faring in dealing with poverty. File Photo   -  Reuters

The release of Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019 in mid-October by two international organisations brought the issue of poverty to forefront

India's food production has been going up year after year. Soon, the total quantity of food grains produced in the country is expected to top the 300-million tonnes mark. But, has this spectacular performance on food production front-helped India bring down its poverty numbers? For, there is no officially released data on progress has India made on tackling poverty for last eight years!

The release of Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019 in mid-October by two international organisations - Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe - brought the issue of poverty to forefront as the publication reported India's position on the hunger index going down by seven notches from 95th to 102nd in a year.

Read more: India slips to 102nd rank in Global Hunger Report 2019

A number of economists across the spectrum dismissed it as a trivial exercise with faulty methodology. Even economists, who are otherwise critical of the Narendra Modi government's handling of economy, agreed with the government which earlier argued there was no substance in this poverty ranking exercise. “It was more like child malnutrition index,” said a professor from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “Hunger is more related to poverty than malnutrition. How credible can such a ranking system when no new data is available from the government,” he asked.

The report, nonetheless, brought to fore the lack of fresh data on how the country has been faring in dealing with poverty - urban or rural.

“Since Narendra Modi has taken charge in 2014, there has been very little data available on where does the country stand on dealing with poverty,” said an economic researcher working with an international institution in Delhi on conditions of anonymity. According to him, many young social science researchers across the country are finding it difficult to carry out research with fresh numbers are not around.

The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), which has been carrying out periodic surveys on consumption expenditure, has not released any such data for a while. the latest household consumption expenditure data released by NSSO was for 2011-12. Even though there was some promise that the latest round of consumption expenditure survey for the year 2017-18 would be released by June this year, it is still awaited.

Related news: India lifted 271 million people out of poverty in 10 years: UN

Meanwhile, Himanshu, associate professor at JNU's Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, who compared two Periodic Labour Force Surveys in 2014-15 and 2017-18 found that the consumption expenditure of rural and urban Indian households has been falling, indicating an economic crunch.

According to his calculations, In 2018, average consumption expenditure in rural areas declined from ₹1,587 per person per month (ppm) in 2014 to ₹1,524 ppm in 2017-18. The decline in urban areas was from ₹2,926 ppm in 2014 to ₹2,909 ppm in 2017-18."This has never happened in the recent history," Himanshu told BusinessLine.

He said it is difficult to estimate the exact incidence of poverty without data from the quinquennial consumption survey of 2017-18, the numbers coming from PLFS confirm the fear that poverty may have risen during the first term of the Modi government. “This probably explains why the government is sitting on the survey. The number may not be favourable to the government,” Himanshu said.

Published on October 30, 2019

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