New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will move a step closer to the realization of its poll promise to promulgate a food security law if the Planning Commission, as is expected, conditionally approves the findings of the poverty panel report estimating the number of poor in the country at its meeting on Saturday.
In preparation, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia met senior government officials and some members of the Planning Commission on Friday.
“It was a fruitful meeting and we will meet again on Tuesday (20 April),” said Ahluwalia. “We will give the empowered group of ministers (eGoM) some options to choose from and then we will also doing costing associated with different options,” he added.
According to a person familiar with the development, but who did not want to be identified, the commission will only conditionally accept the Tendulkar report. That is, the estimates for poverty can be used for the food security Bill, but will not be employed while effecting government spending on anti-poverty programmes. “In effect this means that there will be two estimates of poverty,” the same person said.
Ahluwalia confirmed that the Tendulkar report would be discussed, but declined to comment on whether the commission’s acceptance would be conditional.
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The eGoM had asked the commission to submit the latest estimate on poverty so that it could proceed to finalize the contours of the food security Bill. The draft Bill proposed by the eGoM had stopped short of assuring an entitlement as had been previously pledged. Following an intervention by Sonia Gandhi after she was appointed chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC), the eGoM decided to revisit its proposals.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had said after the meeting on 6 April that the eGoM would meet three weeks later after it receives more information it had sought from the Planning Commission.
Incorporating the new poverty estimates and at the same time raising the entitlement per family from 25kg to 35kg a month would increase the food subsidy bill. The government, which is already facing an adverse fiscal situation, was seeking to minimize the outgo and was hence reluctant to increase the allocation and extend it as an entitlement to all.
Those who attended the meeting included expenditure secretary Sushma Nath, food secretary, Alka Sirohi and Planning Commission members Arun Maira and Saumitra Choudhury.
An official said the internal Planning Commission meeting will discuss the details of poverty figures as estimated by the Tendulkar committee report submitted to the Planning Commission last year.
The report was authored by an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission and chaired by Suresh Tendulkar, former chairman of the National Statistical Commission.
According to this new report, the number of rural poor, based on a revised definition of poverty, was 41.8% of the rural population in 2004-05 as opposed to the existing official estimate of 28.8% for the same year.
The report showed that between 1993-94 and 2004-05, there has been a dramatic shift in the ranking of the states with the most rural poor; the six states with the most rural poor in 2004-05 are Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
It also showed that the proportion of poor in urban areas is substantially lower than that in rural India; while a little over one in four people are poor in urban India, the proportion is four out of 10 in rural areas.
The Planning Commission, say those familiar with the developments, would accept the recommendations.
Y.H. Alagh, an economist who defined poverty in the 1970s, said that accepting the Tendulkar committee report may not be sustainable as factors such as malnutrition have not been dealt with.
“Tendulkar essentially is saying that urban poverty line as it existed in the earlier definition of poverty be made the national poverty line which may not be acceptable to many,” he said.
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