New Delhi: Taking note
of government flip-flop over where to benchmark the economic
criteria of poverty, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory
Council, comprising non-government experts, will meet Oct 21 and
possibly come out with its recommendations.
"The chairperson has called a meeting on Oct 21. Issues relating
to poverty estimates and the ongoing Socio Economic and Caste
Census (SECC) 2011 will form main part of the agenda," a source in
The NAC could not meet in the past two months as Sonia Gandhi was
abroad for treatment for an undisclosed ailment.
In her absence, the government faced flak over a Planning
Commission affidavit in the Supreme Court, which said those
spending over Rs.32 per day in urban areas and Rs.26 per day in
rural areas were not poor.
The affidavit triggered a controversy and invited angry reactions
from several social activists, including NAC members Aruna Roy and
Even senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar
Joshi said the "plan panel was confused over the poverty issue and
was misleading the Supreme Court".
"The affidavit gave an impression that people at that level are
happy with their status, and the people above this line were quite
well-off and deserved no government subsidy," said an NAC source.
In an attempt to save its face, the government quickly announced
it would set up another expert panel to finalise the poverty
estimates in the country after data from the SECC was available by
The problem is there are no precise estimates of poverty available
in India as the country currently has at least three expert views
on the subject.
Economist Arjun Sengupta had said 70 percent Indians were living
on less than Rs.20 a day, and former Planning Commission
member-secretary N.C. Saxena's report pegged it at over 50 percent
of the population.
A third study, by economist Suresh Tendulkar, pegged poverty in
India at 37.5 percent.
Correct estimates are important to ensure welfare schemes -- worth
around Rs.80,000 crore ($17.5 billion) -- reach the needy alone.
Correct poverty estimates are also crucial for the Congress-led
United Progressive Alliance government, which is planning to enact
an ambitious National Food Security Act, covering around 75
percent of the population.
Meanwhile, the Planning Commission has said it would submit a
fresh affidavit in the apex court to clarify its stand on poverty
(Amit Agnihotri can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)