New Delhi: The Planning
Commission Monday clarified that it was not going by a set poverty
line for allocation of subsidised food and supported an approach
of giving benefits based on various economic factors.
The plan panel had drawn flak from activists, including from
members of the influential Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory
Council (NAC), for its affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that
the poverty line for urban areas could be provisionally placed at
about Rs.32 per day.
"The allegation is being made that the Planning Commission is
trying to understate poverty. This is simply not true," Ahluwalia
told reporters at a joint press conference with Rural Development
Minister Jairam Ramesh in Yojana Bhawan here.
Going by the estimates of the Suresh Tendulkar report, the
Planning Commission had in the affidavit before the apex court set
the yardstick for measuring poverty at just over Rs.4,800 for a
family of five living in urban areas and at about Rs.3,700 for a
similar family in rural India.
Ahluwalia, however, said these had been misinterpreted and the
Planning Commission never wanted to restrict benefits to a smaller
percentage of the population.
"The Planning Commission has never taken the view that the
benefits should be restricted to those below this poverty line,"
Ahluwalia said, adding that it had in fact supported the idea of
widening the beneficiaries base for food allocation.
The NAC had last year recommended that the government discontinue
the method of calculating the number of beneficiaries for various
subsidies and welfare programmes on the basis of below poverty
line (BPL) category and instead award benefits to a priority
"The Planning Commission has strongly supported the NAC
recommendations in all the inter-ministerial meetings that
entitlement should go beyond the poverty line level," said
NAC member Harsh Mander who was among the fiercest critics of the
plan panel's affidavit, said the clarification was a right step
but it needed to be seen how it would translate into action.
"We need to have a benchmark as to what is acceptable (level of
poverty)," said Mander.
Ramesh, who met Ahluwalia earlier in the day, said at the joint
briefing that the government's welfare programmes were even now
largely based on other criteria and did not follow the BPL
yardstick for extending benefits.
"We are in the midst of conducting a socio-economic caste census
which will generate based on derivational indicators a rank
ordering of households," said the minister.
Ramesh also added that the Planning Commission and his ministry
would set up a joint committee to ensure that "no poor and
deprived household that is generated from the census is excluded
from government programmes."
The census is expected to be wrapped up by January 2012.