Planning Commission may reconsider poverty caps

Planning Commission may reconsider poverty caps

New Delhi: The Planning Commission may suggest delinking food entitlement to those below the poverty line, or BPL, under the proposed Food Security Act from the Tendulkar report on poverty, in the wake of criticism that the caps so defined are too low.

That may force the government to sharply revise upwards its calculations about the number of Indians who are poor and therefore eligible to be covered under the proposed law, which would then have to be redrafted.

The Plan panel had said in an affidavit to the Supreme Court last month that at June prices, the spending threshold per capita for the poverty line in cities was 32 per day and 26 in villages. This followed a provisional analysis based on a method suggested in 2009 by a committee led by the late economist Suresh D. Tendulkar. This is being strongly contested by the states and other stakeholders, who say the threshold needs to be much higher and that the present caps are inadequate, thereby defining a larger number of people as needy.

The Tendulkar committee had estimated poverty in India at 37.2% of the population in 2004-05.

“The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission (Montek Singh Ahluwalia) has called a meeting on Monday to look at the possibility of delinking the two," said a person close to the move, who did not wish to be identified.

He said that the meeting will be attended by three Planning Commission members—Abhijit Sen, Mihir Shah, Saumitra Chaudhuri. Also present will be rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and registrar general and census commissioner of India C. Chandramouli.

Ahluwalia confirmed that he will hold the meeting on Monday.

“Some members have views on how to handle the poverty issue in future regarding entitlements," said Ahluwalia. “Future policy will be laid out in the food security Bill. We will be consulted on that at the right time."

“We are meeting to discuss the BPL census (socio-economic census likely by the end of this year) and the BPL caps," Sen said. “Let’s see what decisions are taken."

Ramesh said the meeting will look at the ramifications of the recent Planning Commission affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court.

“My concern is more about arbitrary caps," he said. “Why should there be such caps to identify the beneficiaries of government welfare programmes."

Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said there had been public disquiet about the limits.

“These figures (BPL caps) could undergo a change. Who knows, some other statistics may come up, which are acceptable to the Planning Commission. There is a certain disquiet in civil society and some sections. They believe the statistics are perhaps somewhat removed from reality."

The affidavit submitted by the Plan panel before the Supreme Court is not a final document, she said.

Last week, several leading economists urged the government to delink food entitlements from what they called “faulty" poverty measures. They included former West Bengal finance minister Ashok Mitra, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Prabhat Patnaik, chairman of the 1977 task force on poverty estimation Yoginder K. Alagh and JNU professor Jayati Ghosh.

Sen and Mihir Shah have said the government should wait for results of the socio-economic census, expected to be released by the end of 2011, to arrive at the correct number of people living below the poverty line, Mint reported on 26 September. They had added that the Tendulkar panel’s mandate was not to provide a basis for determining entitlements under government programmes.

PTI contributed to this story.