Inflation, poverty and food security

[हिंदी] [Photo] The shock, condemnation and rejection of the Planning Commission's deeply flawed arguments and insistence on keeping a low poverty line, thereby excluding large sections of society, from even the present day minimalistic food entitlements provided by the Government, leave alone ensuring full food security to the people of the country, was evident at the day-long meeting organized by the Asha Parivar and National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) in Gandhi Bhawan, Lucknow. "We are deeply concerned at the recent recommendations of the Planning Commission which has decided to keep a very low poverty line (Fixing it at Rs. 20 per day expenditure for urban areas and Rs. 15 per day expenditure for rural areas for year 2005) which will exclude large populations from the getting the benefits of subsidized food. Can Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, live on Rs 20 a day?" asked Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee (2002) and a noted social activist.

"We believe that basic services such as food, education, health, work and social security must be universally available for all. The current system of setting 'caps' on the number of 'below poverty line' (BPL) families eligible for subsidised food-grains by the Planning Commission, is widely recognised as being deeply flawed. It has led to the exclusion of many deprived families. Most state governments have had to expand the public distribution system (PDS) to cover a higher number of families, as the official poverty ratios turned out to be gross underestimates of the actual number of families in need of subsidised food-grains. The current official poverty line is no more than a 'destitution' line" said Dr Pandey.

"Even the revised poverty lines provided by the Tendulkar Committee (increasing the rural poverty ratio from 28.3% to 41.8% based on 2004-05 data) are nowhere close to what is required for dignified survival. This line is bound to be faulty if it is used to set 'caps' for benefits through any public schemes related to nutrition, as it will lead to the exclusion of many who are hungry" said Arundhati Dhuru, UP State Advisor to Right To Food Commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court.

"The current poverty lines are very low and using these to set 'quotas' can be exclusionary, especially because many people live on the margins. For instance, the World Bank estimates that 83% of Indians lived on less than 2 dollars a day in 2008 (which at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms amounts to about Rs 29 a day - this is only a few rupees more than the average official poverty line). Don't all these people deserve access to subsidised food and all the other benefits provided by the Government for the poor?" asked Dhuru.

The Government has come up with a new recommendation to give money instead of food-grains. In UP, Hardoi and Lakhimpur Khiri were selected to pilot this recommendation. In a recent study conducted in Hardoi it was evident that the poor people want food-grains. The government has also neglected agriculture. In 1950-60, the agriculture development rate wsa 3.2 per cent which now has tumbled as low as 1.3 per cent. The gross domestic product (GDP), the agriculture constituted 60 per cent earlier which now has come down to 13 per cent.

The new economic policies of the Government are further exacerbating the gap between the poor and the rich. For instance, in service sector the salaries have gone up by as much as 15 times but daily wage has only increased two fold. The prices of commodities in the market go up too with rising salaries of service sector (which hardly constitutes 3-5 per cent of total population) but the worst impact of this inflation is borne by the poor people which constitute 7-80 per cent of total population.

This is why consumption of food grain and lentils per person has also declined since India gained its independence. Although India may pride in rising development rate still it cuts a sorry figure when it comes to food security.

Bobby Ramakant - CNS

Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
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