Poverty Alleviation through Recounting

According to the FAO 2008 report, ‘India accounted for 252 million of the 873 million under-nourished people all over the globe in the period 2004-2006. That’s almost 30% of the world’s undernourished population, a share larger than sub-Saharan Africa and twice China’s. More worryingly, the population of the undernourished has increased significantly. India had 210 million undernourished people at the beginning of the 1990s.’

And even under such a dismal situation, the government has been busy in researching about a right estimate of the population below the poverty line (BPL) and a definition of BPL. Arjun Sengupta, Tendulkar, Saxena or World Bank all have provided a different of the percentage of the Indian population living below poverty line. The latest that came from Suresh Tendulkar last week is 37.2 per cent that may sound a lot less pessimistic than the 78 per cent figure of Indians living on less than Rs 20 per day put out by Arjun Sengupta. NC Saxena put the figure at around 50 per cent some months ago. And at 42 per cent, the World Bank has yet another number! But are the figures reliable? Is this not shocking?

And the governments of the states’ level have are busy only in contesting the number. They will be happy if it reaches more than 100 Percent, as it will mean more for the men who matter in the ruling party. Some wish to keep the affected people busy in emotional issues, be it a separate state or the neglect of the local language. One Chief Minister hopes to do that by erecting statues of dalit icons.

Some of the governments are taking some concrete steps too but halfheartedly and ineffectively. Some companies are also trying to reach rural India and assist the people there. But even the successful model such as e-Choupal gets hardly any special support from the government to expand it all throughout the country.

The solutions of this national problem are known but the sincerity to solve lacks.

The farmers need the facilities of irrigation, without which India can’t improve its food production significantly. It is clear from the data. In India, 56 per cent of food grains are produced from 47 million hectares of irrigated land while the rest 44 per cent comes from 95 million hectares of rain-dependent land. Thus, the irrigated land is about two-and-a-half times as productive as land dependent on rain. An adequate irrigation itself can boost production that is desired. But this is not the top priority of the governments.

The public distribution system needs is to be effective but over the years there has been any sincere effort to make it fool-proof and transparent, though since Rajiv day the figures appear about the percentage actually reaching to the beneficiaries. Now everyone is looking to Nandan Nilekani to provide the solution with his smart card.

The marginal farmers need independence from the middle men and traders for getting the best price of their produce, but the government has hesitated to take some concrete steps. A report appearing in media about the recent inflation of the vegetables tells the same story that I have been writing for months.If cauliflower, for instance, is being sold by dealers at Rs 5 a kg at the mandi, by the time it travels a few miles to the vendor its price is Rs 20-25 a kg. The poor farmer gets just Rs 3 from dealers at the mandi, despite his toil and risks.

With the most innovative minds in trade and bureaucracy that find or help a way to unscrupulous lot to corrupt any system, can there be a hope?

Unfortunately, the states can afford demanding higher and higher number of BPL figures. The people must also demand from their leaders a time frame for eradicating the poverty by creating more employment with education, skill training, population control, project implementation and industrialization, particularly bringing in the manufacturing. They must not believe and listen to their political excuses.

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