Is India Misrepresenting Its Poverty Numbers?
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
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 hasdropped by 51 million — 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 1.2 billion Indians — since the country introduced an ambitious economic reforms program in 1991 that brought unprecedented economic growth and wealth. Poverty in rural India declined at an even faster pace, the report said.
But many Indians are not ready to believe this rare good news. Some accuse the government of statistical jugglery — 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 cents or less daily in urban areas and 44 cents or less in villages. This is lower than the earlier level of 65 to 75 cents a day or less in cities, and 50 to 55 cents daily or less in villages, which was set by the commission.
“Is this the poverty line or the starvation line?” S. S. Ahluwalia, a lawmaker with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, asked in parliament on Tuesday, accusing the government of playing with lives of the poor.