Amidst a slugfest by ruling and opposition parties over the Planning Commission's definition of the notional poverty line that showed a decline in poverty level to 21.9 per cent of the population, the government has in fact done away with the use of poverty estimates and accepted that 65 per of Indians are poor for all practical purposes.
The Planning Commission has also proposed to increase the base minimum per capita expenditure for poverty estimates to around Rs50 per day in rural areas and Rs62 in urban areas.
A government release had earlier shown people earning more than Rs32 a day in urban areas and Rs27 per day in rural areas as above poverty line.
Based on this, the Planning Commission had also estimated the number of people below poverty line in the country at nearly 22 per cent.
The new poverty data released by the Planning Commission has only helped to create a controversy, with economists and political parties claiming that the number was not realistic as the panel had kept the poverty line abysmally low to show that poverty in the country is being eradicated at a fast pace.
In fact, the Planning Commission's new poverty line will have no bearing on any government schemes since the poverty numbers are no more linked to public entitlements.
The government, which used to give food entitlements under the public distribution system (PDS) on the basis of the poverty line, has decided to do move to a broader and more realistic de facto definition of poverty.
The existing PDS entitlements covers 34 per cent of 2011 population based on the 1993-94 poverty numbers. This will now go up to 65 per cent of the population with the government implementing the National Food security scheme.
While Planning Commission's own estimates the subsidised foodgrain entitlements to cover 67 per cent of the population, the new formula being worked out by the ministry of rural development along with the exclusion criteria to be derived from the ongoing socio-economic and caste census are expected to leave out only the top 35 per cent of the population from the PDS net.
Meanwhile, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar today slammed the Planning Commission's poverty fixation criteria as a "cruel joke" on the poor; poverty should not be measured in terms of calories and money but on the basis of right to live with dignity, he said.
He said the assertions by Congress leader Rashid Masood's that one can have food in Jama Masjid area for Rs5 and Raj Babbar's saying that one can have proper meal for Rs12 in Mumbai are only "hilarious" utterances by irresponsible leaders.
"We do not agree with the criteria fixed for poverty... poverty should not be decided in terms of calories and money to purchase food but on the basis of the right to live respectfully," Kumar told reporters.