M A I N   N E W S

Poverty yardstick to change
Plan panel to review the controversial Rs 32 cut-off for urban BPL families
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 3
Widespread public criticism and UPA’s political compulsions today forced the Planning Commission to distance itself from the controversial Rs 32 and Rs 26 cut-offs for urban and rural poor.

Attempting a damage control after the plan panel’s shocking affidavit on poverty limits in the Supreme Court that sparked widespread criticism of “aam aadmi UPA”, the government also made it clear that present state-wise poverty estimates using the Commission’s methodology would not be used to impose any ceilings on the number of households to be included in different government programmes and schemes.

Sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday specifically asked Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to resolve the matter at the earliest, especially after Congress scion Rahul Gandhi sought a re-look into the matter.

Incidentally, not just NGOs and groups like Sonia Gandhi-led NAC, but also several Union ministers, including Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and I&B Minister Ambika Soni had criticised the low cut-off.

An expert committee will now be appointed to ensure that the new methodology is consistent with provisions of the Food Security Bill as it finally emerges, Ramesh and Ahluwalia today said after meeting for more than an hour this morning.

In other words, the panel will not be using the below poverty line (BPL) line drawn by the Tendulkar Committee while ascertaining who will be the beneficiaries of government’s various welfare schemes, but wait for the results of the Socio-Economic and Caste-Economic Census, presently under way to survey all rural households to collect information about socio-economic indicators.

Being carried out in association with the Registrar General of India, the exercise is expected to be completed by January next year. “The eligibility and entitlements of rural households for different Central government programmes and schemes will be determined after the SECC 2011 survey results are available and have been analysed,” Ramesh said.

The government will take into account multiple dimensions of deprivation based on indicators collected through the SECC for arriving at specific entitlements that rural households will receive under various Central government schemes and benefits after consulting the states, experts and civil society organisations.

This in particular will take care of apprehensions of several states, particularly Bihar, which are not cooperating with the Centre in the SECC, fearing a cap on government schemes.

The current weaknesses in identification of households under BPL would be corrected by determining eligibility for the priority category as was mandated under the draft National Food Bill, Ramesh assured.

He said that the methodology would ensure that no poor or deprived household is excluded from coverage under different government programmes and schemes.

Meanwhile, Ahluwalia, who has had to face several jibes lately, including asking him to live on the princely sum of Rs 32 for a day, today said that the controversial definition presented to the Supreme Court did not represent the plan panel’s views. “People allege that the Planning Commission is trying to understate poverty which is simply not true,” he said.

The Planning Commission has come under flak following the affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court which said that persons consuming items worth more than Rs 32 per day in urban areas (Rs 26 in rural areas) are not poor. As per the affidavit, a family of five spending less than Rs 4,824 (at June 2011 prices) in urban areas will fall in the BPL (Below Poverty Line) category. The expenditure limit for a family in a rural area has been fixed at Rs 3,905.

The affidavit, however, left the Congress, which had portrayed itself as a champion of the ‘aam aadmi’ during the 2004 and 2009 elections, embarrassed. Several activists, NGOs and political parties criticised the Commission and even challenged Ahluwalia and his team to survive on the measly amount.





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