The state of India’s poor must be acknowledged

Context: Trend of rising poverty in India – middle class sliding into poverty amid Covid – 19 pandemic.  

Trends signifying India’s slide into poverty 
  • On ranking of median income, India stood at 99 among 131 countries. 
  • With a median income of $616 per annum, it was the lowest among BRICS and fell in the lower-middle-income country bracket. 
  • A decline for the first time since 1972 – 1973 in the monthly per capita consumption expenditure of FY  2017-18. 
  • India downgraded on the Global Hunger Index to ‘serious hunger’ category. 
  • India’s own health census data or the recently concluded National Family Health Survey or NFHS-5, which had worrying markers of increased malnutrition, infant mortality, and maternal health. 
  • Bangladesh recently achieved a high per capita income ($280 higher) than India. This must also be a reason for Indians to introspect.  
  • India has also slid on the sustainable development goals index (by at least two ranks last month) 
  • In 2019, the global Multidimensional Poverty Index reported that India lifted 271 million citizens out of poverty between 2006 and 2016. Since then, the International Monetary Fund, Hunger Watch, SWAN and several other surveys show a definite slide. 
  • In March, the Pew Research Center with the World Bank data estimated that ‘the number of poor in India, on the basis of an income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity, has more than doubled to 134 million from 60 million in just a year due to the pandemic-induced recession’.  
  • In 2020, India contributed 57.3% of the growth of the global poor. India contributed to 59.3% of the global middle class that slid into poverty. 

All of the above indicators show rising poverty in India. However, poverty line debate in India is still an unsettled one.  

Why this slide into poverty should be a cause of worry for India? 

This is certainly a cause of concern. India since independence for 25 years (1951 – 1974) saw a continuous increase in poverty. The population of the poor increased from 47% to 56%’. There has been an uninterrupted battle against poverty since the 1970s. Recent trends show India is again a “country of mass poverty” after 45 years. 

Why counting the poor is necessary? 
  1. Firstly, to get public opinion: The first is because knowing the numbers and making them public makes it possible to get public opinion to support massive and urgent cash transfers. Spain has accorded security to its gig workers by giving delivery boys the status of workers. In India too, a dramatic reorientation would get support only once numbers are honestly laid out. 
  2. Secondly, for honest evaluation of policies: The second argument for recording the data is so that all policies can be honestly evaluated based on whether they meet the needs of the majority. It Is a policy such as bank write-offs of loans amounting to ₹1.53-lakh crore last year, which helped corporates overwhelmingly, beneficial to the vast majority? Or has it been just beneficial to a thin sliver of the super-rich? This would be possible to transparently evaluate only when the numbers of the poor are known and established 
  3. Third, for informed public debates and accountability: if government data were to honestly account for the exact numbers of the poor, it may be more realistic to expect the public debate to be conducted on the concerns of the real majority. It would also create an atmosphere that demands accountability from public representatives. 
  4. Fourth, relation between rising corporate wealth and the number of poor: Fourth, wealth of richest Indian corporates has grown manifold in the past few years, even as millions of Indians have experienced a massive fall into poverty. It is well known that stock market and Indian economy are interrelated. If billionaire lists are evaluated in detail and reported upon, the country cannot shy away from counting its poor. 

Urgent solutions are needed within, and the starting point of that would be only when we know how many are poor. If we do not bother to know of the increased numbers sliding into poverty, there would be little possibility of moving toward a solution.  

Terms to know: 

SourceThe Hindu 

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