Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Poverty In India

According to a recent Indian government committee constituted to estimate poverty, nearly 38% of India’s population (380 million) is poor. This report is based on new methodology and the figure is 10% higher than the present poverty estimate of 28.5%.
The committee was headed by SD Tendulkar has used a different methodology to reach at the current figure. It has taken into consideration indicators for heath, education, sanitation, nutrition and income as per National Sample Survey Organization survey of 2004-05. This new methodology is a complex scientific basis aimed at addressing the concern raised over the current poverty estimation.
Since 1972 poverty has been defined on basis of the money required to buy food worth 2100 calories in urban areas and 2400 calories in rural areas. In June this year a government committee headed by NC Saxena committee estimated 50% Indians were poor as against Planning Commission’s 2006 figure of 28.5%.
Poverty is one of the main problems which have attracted attention of sociologists and economists. It indicates a condition in which a person fails to maintain a living standard adequate for his physical and mental efficiency. It is a situation people want to escape. It gives rise to a feeling of a discrepancy between what one has and what one should have. The term poverty is a relative concept. It is very difficult to draw a demarcation line between affluence and poverty. According to Adam Smith - Man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, the conveniences and the amusements of human life.
Even after more than 50 years of Independence India still has the world's largest number of poor people in a single country. Of its nearly 1 billion inhabitants, an estimated 260.3 million are below the poverty line, of which 193.2 million are in the rural areas and 67.1 million are in urban areas. More than 75% of poor people reside in villages. Poverty level is not uniform across India. The poverty level is below 10% in states like Delhi, Goa, and Punjab etc whereas it is below 50% in Bihar (43) and Orissa (47). It is between 30-40% in Northeastern states of Assam, Tripura, and Mehgalaya and in Southern states of TamilNadu and Uttar Pradesh.
Poverty has many dimensions changing from place to place and across time. There are two inter-related aspects of poverty - Urban and rural poverty. The main causes of urban poverty are predominantly due to impoverishment of rural peasantry that forces them to move out of villages to seek some subsistence living in the towns and cities. In this process, they even lose the open space or habitat they had in villages albeit without food and other basic amenities. When they come to the cities, they get access to some food though other sanitary facilities including clean water supply still elude them. And they have to stay in the habitats that place them under sub-human conditions. While a select few have standards of living comparable to the richest in the world, the majority fails to get two meals a day. The causes of rural poverty are manifold including inadequate and ineffective implementation of anti-poverty programmes. The overdependence on monsoon with non-availability of irrigational facilities often result in crop-failure and low agricultural productivity forcing farmers in the debt-traps. The rural communities tend to spend large percentage of annual earnings on social ceremonies like marriage; feast etc. Our economic development since Independence has been lopsided .There has been increase in unemployment creating poverty like situations for many. Population is growing at an alarming rate. The size of the Indian family is relatively bigger averaging at 4.2.The other causes include dominance of caste system which forces the individual to stick to the traditional and hereditary occupations.
Since the 1970s the Indian government has made poverty reduction a priority in its development planning. Policies have focused on improving the poor standard of living by ensuring food security, promoting self-employment through greater access to assets, increasing wage employment and improving access to basic social services. Launched in 1965, India's Public Distribution System has helped meet people's basic food needs by providing rations at subsidized prices. Although it has affected less than 20% of the Poor's food purchases, the system has been important in sustaining people's consumption of cereals, especially in periods of drought. It has provided women and girls with better access to food and helped overcome the widespread discrimination against female consumption within households. It has also reduced the burden of women, who are responsible for providing food for the household.
The largest credit-based government poverty reduction programme in the world, the Integrated Rural Development Programme provides rural households below the poverty line with credit to purchase income-generating assets. Launched in 1979, the programme has supplied subsidized credit to such groups as small and marginalized farmers, agricultural laborers, rural artisans, the physically handicapped, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Within this target population, 40% of the beneficiaries are supposed to be women. Although the programme has reached 51 million families, only 27% of the borrowers have been women. The programme has significantly increased the income of 57% of assisted families.
Rural poverty is largely a result of low productivity and unemployment. The Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, a national public works scheme launched in 1989 with financing from the central and state governments, provides more than 700 million person days of work a year about 1% of total employment for people with few opportunities for employment. The scheme has two components: a programme to provide low-cost housing and one to supply free irrigation wells to poor and marginalized farmers. The public works scheme is self-targeting. Since it offers employment at the statutory minimum wage for unskilled manual labor, only those willing to accept very low wages the poor are likely to enroll in the scheme. By providing regular employment and thereby increasing the bargaining power of all rural workers, the public works scheme has had a significant effect in reducing poverty. It has also contributed to the construction of rural infrastructure (irrigation works, a soil conservation project, drinking water supply). Evaluations show that 82% of available funds have been channeled to community development projects. Targeting was improved in 1996 when the housing and irrigation well components were delinked and focused exclusively on people below the poverty line.
TRYSEM (Training rural youth for self employment) was started to provide technical skills to the rural youth and to help them to get employment in fields such as agriculture, industry, services and business activities. Youth of the poor families belonging to the age-group of 18-35 are entitled to avail the benefits of the scheme. Priority is given to persons belonging to ST/SC and ex-servicemen and about 1/3 seats are reserved for women. Minimum Needs Programme was taken up as an integral part of the 5th Five Year Plan and it was intended to cater to the minimum needs of the people such as rural water supply, rural health, road building, adult education, primary education, rural electrification and improvement of the urban slums etc.With the intention of removing urban unemployment some schemes such as SEPUP (Self-employment programme for the urban poor); SEEUY (Scheme for self-employment of the educated urban youths) .These schemes gives loans and subsidies for the urban unemployed youths to create or to find for themselves some jobs. The SEPUP had provided financial help for about 1.19 urban unemployed youths in the year 190-91.
The participation of civil society organizations in poverty reduction efforts, especially those directed to women, has increased social awareness and encouraged governments to provide better services. Cooperatives such as the Self-Employed Women's Association provide credit to women at market rates of interest but do not require collateral; they also allow flexibility in the use of loans and the timing of repayments. These civil society organizations have not only contributed to women's material well being; they have also helped empower them socially and politically. Such credit initiatives, by bringing women out of the confines of the household, are changing their status within the family and within village hierarchies. The demands of civil society organizations for better social services have spurred the government to launch campaigns to increase literacy and improve public infrastructure. And their calls for greater accountability and real devolution of power are increasing the likelihood that expenditures for poverty reduction will reach the needy, especially women.
The Indian state has undoubtedly failed in its responsibilities towards its citizens over the last 50 odd years. There is a need for the state to move out of many areas and the process has been started with economic liberalization. The process of decentralization should devolute lot more powers, both functional and financial, to panchayats. The lack of transparency and accountability has hampered our economic development at all levels. The problem of poverty persists because of a number of leakages in the system. New laws have to be evolved to ensure more accountability. Bodies like the Planning Commission should be modified into new constitutional bodies that can hold governments accountable for their failure to implement development programmes. A strong system of incentives and disincentives also needs to be introduced. The encouragement of non-governmental organizations and private sector individuals in tackling poverty is imperative, as the state cannot do everything.


Controversy over extent of poverty reduction- 

The definition of poverty in India has been called into question by the UN World Food Programme. In its report on global hunger index, it questioned the government of India's definition of poverty saying:
The fact that calorie deprivation is increasing during a period when the proportion of rural population below the poverty line is said to be declining rapidly, highlights the increasing disconnect between official poverty estimates and calorie deprivation.
While total overall poverty in India has declined, the extent of poverty reduction is often debated. While there is a consensus that there has not been increase in poverty between 1993–94 and 2004–05, the picture is not so clear if one considers other non-pecuniary dimensions (such as health, education, crime and access to infrastructure). With the rapid economic growth that India is experiencing, it is likely that a significant fraction of the rural population will continue to migrate toward cities, making the issue of urban poverty more significant in the long run.
Some, like journalist P Sainath, hold the view that while absolute poverty may not have increased, India remains at a abysmal rank in the UN Human Development Index. India is positioned at 132ond place in the 2007-08 UN HDI index. It is the lowest rank for the country in over 10 years. In 1992, India was at 122ond place in the same index. It can even be argued that the situation has become worse on critical indicators of overall well-being such as the number of people who are undernourished (India has the highest number of malnourished people, at 230 million, and is 94th of 119 in the world hunger index), and the number of malnourished children (43% of India's children under 5 are underweight (BMI<18.5), the highest in the world) as of 2008.
Economist Pravin Visaria has defended the validity of many of the statistics that demonstrated the reduction in overall poverty in India, as well as the declaration made by India's former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha that poverty in India has reduced significantly. He insisted that the 1999-2000 survey was well designed and supervised and felt that just because they did not appear to fit preconceived notions about poverty in India, they should not be dismissed outright. Nicholas Stern, vice president of the World Bank, has published defenses of the poverty reduction statistics. He argues that increasing globalization and investment opportunities have contributed significantly to the reduction of poverty in the country. India, together with China, have shown the clearest trends of globalization with the accelerated rise in per-capita income.
A 2007 report by the state-run National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) found that 77% of Indians, or 836 million people, lived on less than 20 rupees per day (USD 0.50 nominal, USD 2.0 in PPP), with most working in "informal labour sector with no job or social security, living in abject poverty." However, a new report from the UN disputes this, finding that the number of people living on US$1.25 a day is expected to go down from 435 million or 51.3 percent in 1990 to 295 million or 23.6 percent by 2015 and 268 million or 20.3 percent by 2020.
A study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that in 1985, 93% of the Indian population lived on a household income of less than 90,000 rupees a year, or about a dollar per person per day; by 2005 that proportion had been cut nearly in half, to 54%. More than 103 million people have moved out of desperate poverty in the course of one generation in urban and rural areas as well. They project that if India can achieve 7.3% annual growth over the next 20 years, 465 million more people will be lifted out of poverty. Contrary to popular perceptions, rural India has benefited from this growth: extreme rural poverty has declined from 94% in 1985 to 61% in 2005, and they project that it will drop to 26% by 2025. Report concludes that India's economic reforms and the increased growth that has resulted have been the most successful anti-poverty programmes in the country.

Liberalization policies and their effects

Other points of view hold that the economic reforms initiated in the early 1990s are responsible for the collapse of rural economies and the agrarian crisis currently underway. As journalist and the Rural Affairs editor for The Hindu, P Sainath describes in his reports on the rural economy in India, the level of inequality has risen to extraordinary levels, when at the same time, hunger in India has reached its highest level in decades. He also points out that rural economies across India have collapsed, or on the verge of collapse due to the neo-liberal policies of the government of India since the 1990s. The human cost of the "liberalisation" has been very high. The huge wave of farm suicides in Indian rural population from 1997 to 2007 totaled close to 200,000, according to official statistics. That number remains disputed, with some saying the true number is much higher. Commentators have faulted the policies pursued by the government which, according to Sainath, resulted in a very high portion of rural households getting into the debt cycle, resulting in a very high number of farm suicides. As professor Utsa Patnaik, India’s top economist on agriculture, has pointed out, the average poor family in 2007 has about 100 kg less food per year than it did in 1997.
Government policies encouraging farmers to switch to cash crops, in place of traditional food crops, has resulted in an extraordinary increase in farm input costs, while market forces determined the price of the cash crop. Sainath points out that a disproportionately large number of affected farm suicides have occurred with cash crops, because with food crops such as rice, even if the price falls, there is food left to survive on. He also points out that inequality has reached one of the highest rates India has ever seen. In a report by Chetan Ahya, Executive Director at Morgan Stanley, it is pointed out that there has been a wealth increase of close to US$1 Trillion in the time frame of 2003-2007 in the Indian stock market, while only 4-7% of the Indian population hold any equity. During the time when Public investment in agriculture shrank to 2% of the GDP, the nation suffered the worst agrarian crisis in decades, the same time as India became the nation of second highest number of dollar billionaires. Sainath argues that
Farm incomes have collapsed. Hunger has grown very fast. Public investment in agriculture shrank to nothing a long time ago. Employment has collapsed. Non-farm employment has stagnated. (Only the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has brought some limited relief in recent times.) Millions move towards towns and cities where, too, there are few jobs to be found.
In one estimate, over 85 per cent of rural households are either landless, sub-marginal, marginal or small farmers. Nothing has happened in 15 years that has changed that situation for the better. Much has happened to make it a lot worse.
Those who have taken their lives were deep in debt – peasant households in debt doubled in the first decade of the neoliberal “economic reforms,” from 26 per cent of farm households to 48.6 per cent. Meanwhile, all along, India kept reducing investment in agriculture (standard neoliberal procedure). Life was being made more and more impossible for small farmers.
As of 2006, the government spends less than 0.2% of GDP on agriculture and less than 3% of GDP on education. However, some government schemes such as the mid-day meal scheme, and the NREGA have been partially successful in providing a lifeline for the rural economy and curbing the further rise of poverty.
There are 115,000 individuals in India with high net-worth. Since 2000, this elite group has grown an average of 11 per cent annually. Between 2006 and 2007, the number of wealthy individuals in India surged by 23 per cent, which is the highest growth rate in the world.
However, the wealthiest have the lowest level of giving at 1.6% of their household income for charitable purposes.
"While the 'high class', which is ranked one level below the 'upper class' on the income and education scale, donates 2.1% to charity, the middle class gives 1.9% of household income to philanthropy," says Arpan Sheth, partner, Bain & Company. 
The percentage of India's GDP that is spent for charitable purposes is only 0.6 where the percentage is 2.2 in the United States. 

Reduction In Poverty-

Despite all the causes, India currently adds 40 million people to its middle class every year. Analysts such as the founder of "Forecasting International", Marvin J. Cetron writes that an estimated 300 million Indians now belong to the middle class; one-third of them have emerged from poverty in the last ten years. At the current rate of growth, a majority of Indians will be middle-class by 2025.
Despite government initiatives, corporate social responsibility (CSR) remains low on the agenda of corporate sector. Only 10 percent of funding comes from individuals and corporates, and "a large part of CSR initiatives are artfully masqueraded and make it back to the balancesheet". The widening income gap between the rich and the poor over the years, has raised fears of a social backlash. 
Since the early 1950s, govt has initiated, sustained, and refined various planning schemes to help the poor attain self sufficiency in food production. Probably the most important initiative has been the supply of basic commodities, particularly food at controlled prices, available throughout the country as poor spend about 80 percent of their income on food. The schemes have however not been very successful because the rate of poverty reduction lags behind the rapid population growth rate. 
Eradication of poverty in India is generally only considered to be a long-term goal. Poverty alleviation is expected to make better progress in the next 50 years than in the past, as a trickle-down effect of the growing middle class. Increasing stress on education, reservation of seats in government jobs and the increasing empowerment of women and the economically weaker sections of society, are also expected to contribute to the alleviation of poverty. It is incorrect to say that all poverty reduction programmes have failed. The growth of the middle class (which was virtually non-existent when India became a free nation in August 1947) indicates that economic prosperity has indeed been very impressive in India, but the distribution of wealth is not at all even.
After the liberalization process and moving away from the socialist model, India is adding 60 to 70 million people to its middle class every year. Analysts such as the founder of "Forecasting International", Marvin J. Cetron writes that an estimated 390 million Indians now belong to the middle class; one-third of them have emerged from poverty in the last ten years. At the current rate of growth, a majority of Indians will be middle-class by 2025. Literacy rates have risen from 52 percent to 65 percent during the initial decade of liberalization (1991–2001).

Impact Of Poverty-
There has been no uniform measure of poverty in India. The Planning Commission of India has accepted the Tendulkar Committee report which says that 37% of people in India live below the poverty line.
The Arjun Sengupta Report (from National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector) states that 77% of Indians live on less than 20 a day (about $0.50 per day), also N.C. Saxena Committee report states that 50% of Indians live below the poverty line.
A study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative using a Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) found that there were 645 million poor living under the MPI in India, 421 million of whom are concentrated in eight North Indian and East Indian states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. This number is higher than the 410 million poor living in the 26 poorest African nations.
Estimates by NCAER (National Council of Applied Economic Research) show that 48% of the Indian households earn more than 90,000 (US$1,998) annually (or more than US$ 3 PPP per person). According to NCAER, in 2009, of the 222 million households in India, the absolutely poor households (annual incomes below  45,000) accounted for only 15.6% of them or about 35 million (about 200 million Indians). Another 80 million households are in income levels of  45,000– 90,000 per year. These numbers also are more or less in line with the latest World Bank estimates of the “below-the-poverty-line” households that may total about 100 million (or about 456 million individuals)
The World Bank estimates that 80% of India's population lives on less than $2 a day which means a higher proportion of its population lives on less than $2 per day as compared with sub-Saharan Africa.
Since the 1950s, the Indian government and non-governmental organizations have initiated several programs to alleviate poverty, including subsidizing food and other necessities, increased access to loans, improving agricultural techniques and price supports, and promoting education and family planning. These measures have helped eliminate famines, cut absolute poverty levels by more than half, and reduced illiteracy and malnutrition.
Presence of a massive parallel economy in the form of black (hidden) money stashed in overseas tax havens and underutilisation of foreign aid have also contributed to the slow pace of poverty alleviation in India.
Although the Indian economy has grown steadily over the last two decades, its growth has been uneven when comparing different social groups, economic groups, geographic regions, and rural and urban areas. Between 1999 and 2008, the annualized growth rates for Gujarat (8.8%), Haryana (8.7%), or Delhi (7.4%) were much higher than for Bihar (5.1%), Uttar Pradesh (4.4%), or Madhya Pradesh (3.5%). Poverty rates in rural Orissa (43%) and rural Bihar (41%) are among the world's most extreme.
Despite significant economic progress, one quarter of the nation's population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of 12 rupees per day (approximately US$ 0.25).
According to a recently released World Bank report, India is on track to meet its poverty reduction goals. However by 2015, an estimated 53 million people will still live in extreme poverty and 23.6% of the population will still live under US$1.25 per day. This number is expected to reduce to 20.3% or 268 million people by 2020. However, at the same time, the effects of the worldwide recession in 2009 have plunged 100 million more Indians into poverty than there were in 2004, increasing the effective poverty rate from 27.5% to 37.2%.
As per the 2001 census, 35.5% of Indian households availed of banking services, 35.1% owned a radio or transistor, 31.6% a television, 9.1% a phone, 43.7% a bicycle, 11.7% a scooter, motorcycle or a moped, and 2.5% a car, jeep or van; 34.5% of the households had none of these assets.According to Department of Telecommunications of India the phone density has reached 33.23% by December 2008 and has an annual growth of 40%. This tallies with the fact that a family of four with an annual income of 1.37 lakh rupees could afford some of these luxury items.

Causes Of Poverty-
According to S. M. Michael, Dalits constitute the bulk of poor and unemployed.
According to William A. Haviland, casteism is widespread in rural areas, and continues to segregate Dalits. Others, however, have noted the steady rise and empowerment of the Dalits through social reforms and the implementation of reservations in employment and benefits.
Caste explanations of poverty fail to account for the urban/rural divide. Using the UN definition of poverty, 65% of rural forward castes are below the poverty line.
The Mughal era ended at about 1760. Jawaharlal Nehru claimed "A significant fact which stands out is that those parts of India which have been longest under British rule are the poorest today." The Indian economy was purposely and severely deindustrialized, especially in the areas of textiles and metal-working, through colonial privatizations, regulations, tariffs on manufactured or refined Indian goods, taxes, and direct seizures.

India's economic policies

In 1947, the average annual income in India was US$439, compared with US$619 for China, US$770 for South Korea, and US$936 for Taiwan. By 1999, the numbers were US$1,818; US$3,259; US$13,317; and US$15,720, respectively. (numbers are in 1990 international Maddison dollars) In other words, the average income in India was not much different from South Korea in 1947, but South Korea became a developed country by 2000s. At the same time, India was left as one of the world's poorer countries.
License Raj refers to the elaborate licenses, regulations and the accompanying red tape that were required to set up and run business in India between 1947 and 1990. The License Raj was a result of India's decision to have a planned economy, where all aspects of the economy are controlled by the state and licenses were given to a select few. Corruption flourished under this system.
India had started out in the 1950s with: high growth rates, openness to trade and investment, a promotional state, social expenditure awareness and macro stability but ended the 1980s with: low growth rates, closure to trade and investment, a license-obsessed, restrictive state (License Raj), inability to sustain social expenditures and macro instability, indeed crisis.
Poverty has decreased significantly since reforms were started in the 1980s.
Over-reliance on agriculture. There is a surplus of labour in agriculture. Farmers are a large vote bank and use their votes to resist reallocation of land for higher-income industrial projects. While services and industry have grown at double digit figures, agriculture growth rate has dropped from 4.8% to 2%. About 60% of the population depends on agriculture whereas the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is about 18%.
High population growth rate, although demographers generally agree that this is a symptom rather than cause of poverty.