Why So Much Poverty in India?
Of the 1.21 billion population, between 400 and 665 million people are poor in India. The latest poverty line is rupees 32 (64 cents) per day for cities and rupees 26 (52 cents) for the Indian villages!! Can people really survive on this meager amount is the real question?
- New Poverty Line – 64 Cents a Day!!
- Meet The 64 Cent Poverty Expert!!
- Composite Poverty Measures
- Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)
- Development Paradigm and Governance
- Suggestions for Further Reading
New Poverty Line – 64 Cents a Day!!
If one believes a recent report in The Times of India, of the 1.21 billion people of India about 420 million poor live in only eight states, almost 250 million people do not have access to basic medical care, and around 350 million do not have access to safe drinking water. That is not all: A whopping 53 per cent of children are undernourished and 52 per cent primary schools have only one teacher for every two classes.
It is really surprising that in India poverty is just an issue among many others and not the prime issue that should be given national priority and comprehensive attention. The ruling political class appears unable to do any thing meaningful beyond defining poverty line that obscures the real picture. For example, just last week (September 19, 2011) the Planning Commission declared that people spending Rs 32 (64 cents) in cities or Rs 26 (52 cents) in the villages can not be considered poor and acknowledged that with this yardstick there are 407.4 million (33%) poor in India.
Meet The 64 Cent Poverty Expert!!
It is a proof that Indian politicians and policy makers live totally divorced from the ground reality. Had any one of them ever tried to live on USD 0.64 per day expenditure even in their wildest dreams? It is a cruel joke and mockery of Indian poor who are resigned to be ruled by people who go to Western universities to understand poverty in India! In fact, using any monetary value as poverty line is fraught with dangers of artificiality.
The World Bank uses 1.25 dollars a day as poverty line and the Asian Development Bank puts it at 1.35 dollars. Needless to say each benchmark gives a different estimate of the number of poor. The higher the benchmark is the higher is the proportion of people counted as poor. A 2 dollar a day poverty line benchmark makes almost three-fourth Indians poor. Therefore, such an exercise is nothing but a number game meant for generating arguments and counter-arguments.
Income based poverty lines can tell nothing about different forms of deprivations and sufferings poor go through. Poverty entails a denial of a range of basic material needs such as nutrition, safe drinking water, shelter, healthcare, education, etc. Therefore, poverty must be seen beyond income and composite poverty measures provide better understanding of the nature of poverty – at local, regional, national, and world level.
You may like to read: Looking at Poverty, Beyond Lack of Income
Composite Poverty Measures
Seen in this perspective one needs measurable parameters of people’s development or lack of it, not just the GDP or average income numbers. Composite poverty measuring tools such as the Global Hunger Index (GHI) of IFPRI, the Human Development Index (HDI) compiled annually by UNDP and now the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) have been designed to do precisely that. Let us see how the MPI analysis helps uncover various facets of poverty that the income poverty lines can never do.
Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)
The MPI is a new and more elaborate tool to analyze poverty and uncovers different types of deprivations faced by the poor people. It incorporates ten weighted indicators that measure education, health and standard of living. The Indicators used are:
Education: Years of schooling and child enrollment (education) (each with 1/6 weight-age);
Health: Child mortality and nutrition (each with 1/6 weight-age);
Standard of Living: Electricity, flooring, drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel and assets (each with 1/18 weight-age).
The MPI can throw light on both the extent and intensity of poverty. A household is poor if deprived in at least 30 percent weighted indicators. By this definition, 55% (665 million) of Indian population is poor. Another notable finding is that almost 20% (240 million) of Indians are deprived on 6 of the 10 indicators – it translates into highly vulnerable and perilous life.
It also finds that there are more poor people (421 million) in just eight Indian states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal – than in the 26 poorest African countries combined (410 million).
MPI analysis of individual states of India revealed that the magnitude of regional differences within India almost range from that of a reasonably well off Indonesia to that of a desperately poor Somalia. The best performer state is Kerala that resembles Paraguay or Philippines; the next Goa is similar to Indonesia and Punjab is more like Guatemala. The worst performers, Bihar and Jharkhand compare with Somalia.
In also highlighted the fact that globally South Asia has the highest levels of poverty: 51% percent of the population of Pakistan is poor, 58% in Bangladesh, and 65% in Nepal; not very different from 55% in India.
This multidimensional index has already been adapted for official use in Mexico; Chile and Colombia are considering it. It enables them to create effective policies to tackle real life problems of those living in poverty. Hope Indian policy planners will begin to think on similar lines too.
Development Paradigm and Governance
Poverty is a development issue, and not an income issue. Connecting poverty with income is unfortunately a widespread practice that obfuscates the real reasons behind poverty. When poverty is viewed through an income line the remedial actions take a very narrow perspective.
Development is a far wider subject than just rise or fall of national incomes – it is much more than economic growth. In fact, it is about creating an enabling environment in which people can develop to their full potentials and lead productive and creative lives as per their needs and desires, because people are the real wealth of any country. Development is therefore about expanding the choices people make so that they can lead lives that they value. And economic growth is only a means – although a very important one – of expanding people’s choices. If income alone could remove poverty the US would not have 15% (46 million) people officially counted as poor.
Late PM, Rajiv Gandhi had the guts to acknowledge that barely 15% of the funds allocated for schemes for poor finally reach them. And the Rest? It gets siphoned off by those responsible for implementing the schemes. Therefore, people in India are poor despite availability of funds and government’s intention to use them for helping the poor. Nothing can be more tragic than that.
It is appalling is to see lavish expenditure of public money by politicians and bureaucrats on their luxurious lifestyle on one hand and the food grains meant for the utterly poor rotting in government warehouses due to neglect, on the other. And why is that so?
Bad governance leading to corruption – plain and simple.
Compared with other economies India is reputed to have rather poor quality of governance and the rulers have the habit of living isolated from the common masses. This poor governance adversely impacts the economic and social performances. An analysis of governance in India using the World Governance Indicators (Worldwide Governance Indicators) is the subject of another article.
Suggestions for Further Reading
If you liked this page, you may also be interested in
Poverty in India: Where is the Poverty Line?
Understanding Indian Poverty through Global Hunger Index
Exploring Global Poverty Using the Multidimensional Poverty Index