Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What a difference a few cents makes

India’s poverty figures fluctuate wildly, anywhere from 300 million people to 800 million people, depending on whom you ask.

India’s Planning Commission says the number of poor people has dropped by 51 million (a 12.9% fall) — more than the entire population of Spain or Argentina — in the past five years. This, officials say, is the sharpest drop in poverty rate in India — from 406 million to 356 million, out of a population of 1.2 billion. India’s official poverty rate now stands at 29.8%.

But many are not ready to believe this. Some accuse the government of statistical juggling — first, lowering the definition of the poverty line, so as to include fewer people, and then claiming that the number of Indians living in poverty has declined.

According to the commission, Indians are defined as poor if they spend the equivalent of 56 UScents or less daily in urban areas and 44 US cents or less in villages. This is lower than the earlier level of US65 to US75 cents a day or less in cities, and 50 to 55 UScents daily or less in villages, which was set by the commission. At the same time, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia said “The data suggests that the bottom 15% people have not benefited much and the disparity among the rich and the poor has increased,”

“India’s poverty line is the most austerely defined line in the whole world,” said M. S. Swaminathan, an agricultural economist. “

“Is this the poverty line or the starvation line?” asked one opposition party member.


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