No revision in poverty line cap by Plan panel

No revision in poverty line cap by Plan panel

New Delhi: The Planning Commission’s latest affidavit to the Supreme Court in the right to food case reveals it has not taken the court’s advice to revise the thresholds and spending that determine the poverty line, although the commission admits to spiralling food costs and inflation.

The affidavit was filed in a public interest litigation being pursued by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, which wants the government’s threshold of 12 and 17 (rural and urban daily spending, respectively) to be increased to include a greater section of the population for food subsidies. The government’s threshold was introduced based on 2004-05 food prices.

The poverty line set by the commission determines whether or not families are eligible for poverty-related schemes, particularly subsidized foodgrains from the government. The Supreme Court has on several previous occasions (the latest being in March), asked the commission to reconsider its methodology in computing the number of poor citizens or increase the thresholds under this method.

In March, a bench comprising justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma had said: “We fail to understand the rationale and justification for the cap fixed by the Planning Commission."

In Tuesday’s affidavit, the Planning Commission admitted that as per June 2011 prices, the spending threshold per capita in urban areas is 32 per day and correspondingly 26 in rural areas, according to its own provisional analysis.

It said it is awaiting data from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in order to revise the data. In May, the Union government commissioned a new study to make a fresh assessment of poverty levels in India. The commission maintained the current spending by those above the poverty line would be sufficient to meet their basic needs.

“The recommended poverty lines ensure the adequacy of actual private expenditure per capita near the poverty lines on food, education and health and the actual calories consumed are close to the revised calorie intake norm for urban areas and higher than the norm in rural areas."

This stance of the union government and particularly the Planning Commission was criticized severly by state governments in the Supreme Court, who claim that the real levels of poverty were much higher on the ground.

The states have argued that the Centre has capped poverty levels at 37% to reduce the exchequer’s burden on food subsidies and was in denial about the extent of deprivation. The union government has rebutted, saying that state treasuries should contribute more than their current share to these subsidies. The Planning Commission in a 10 May affidavit had justified its ceiling on poverty, saying it exists because subsidies in India are targeted.

The commission claims that for the first time, poverty estimates using the Tendulkar committee method, and using 2009-10 prices are likely to show a reduction in the number of the poor.

“The poverty estimates for 2009-10 are being worked out on the basis of the detailed NSSO data, which has become available and the provisional estimates suggest that the total BPL population as per 2009-10 estimation may be lower than that which would have emerged Tendulkar ratio on 2004/05 projection," it said.