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Number of poor up in Punjab
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 13
Now lakhs in Punjab have applied to be classified “poor” just to get subsidised “atta-daal” to be supplied by the SAD-BJP combine government.

During an ongoing survey to identify “poor families” 6.90 lakh more families in the state have claimed to be classified as poor.

Already 13.50 lakh families have been classified “poor” and are getting subsidised “atta-daal” under a scheme launched by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on August 15.

If the fresh applications are accepted then figure of poor families would be 21.40 lakh, about 42 per cent of the nearly 48 lakh families in Punjab are “poor”.

In reality there are 4.50 lakh families that are below the poverty line (BPL) as per the parameters of the union government and another 1.70 lakh families that are termed the poorest of the poor and are re-eligible under the Antodya Aan Yojna. Punjab relaxed the norms for “poor” and it has now opened floodgates.

The figure of 42 per cent families being poor is on a par with the poorest districts of Orissa, said an official adding nobody in the Government of India or the Planning Commission would believe Punjab had so many poor people. Officially the XI th plan says poverty in Punjab is about 7 per cent.

The parameter of “poor” for the atta-daal scheme is that a family should not earn more than Rs 30,000 a year or Rs 2,500 a month.

This is not far from the national classification of a “BPL family” that is a family having less than Rs 25,000 of annual income and not having any consumer durable like a fridge or TV or owns less than five acres.

With Punjab being the biggest consumer of durables, mobile phones, cars and eatables, this figure of 21.40 lakh — or 42 per cent — poor families would be difficult to justify at any forum, said sources adding this was nothing but misuse of the scheme and it had the government worried about financial implications.

Already the state has to pay subsidy of Rs 650 crore annually to run the atta-daal scheme. The addition of another 6.90 lakh families would mean the subsidy bill would go up to Rs 970 crore. Another factor is that the minimum support price of wheat has been increased from Rs 750 to Rs 1,000 per quintal. That is an increase of 33 per cent in cost for just procuring the wheat.

In the end the state would require about Rs 1,200 crore in the next financial year for the atta-daal scheme.

When the SAD-BJP launched the scheme the government did not want to limit the scheme to only those covered under the “rigid” formula adopted to classify “below poverty line” criterion laid down by the union government.

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