Spinning Action into Words

Moving Beyond Statistics

Sachin Kumar Jain

It seems that the definition of poverty itself is responsible for keeping the poor poor; and hungry. For the elimination of chronic hunger, poverty identification is a big challenge. At the all-India level, poverty line is based on Uniform Recall Period Consumption (URP ) which is the consumption data collected from thirty -days recall period covering all items. According to sources, the Uniform Recall Period Consumption (URP-Consumption) distribution data showed a poverty ratio of 28.3 percent in the rural areas, 25.7% in the urban areas and 27.5% for the country as a whole in 2004-05.

According to the Planning Commission’s latest estimate, poverty in India is reducing. However there are serious lacunae in this process of arriving at this estimate. Locally available items from forest or agriculture consumed by farmers or tribals are also valued at prevailing prices. These are added to expenditure on non-food items to give the total monthly per capita expenditure. At the same time, the cost of items and services such as Shelter , Health or Education are counted at the lowest price without considering the present state of inflation. All this adds up to give a picture that is not accurate.

At the all-India level, the poverty line represents the expenditure level of Rs. 356.30 in rural areas and Rs. 538.60 in urban area per person per month, which is essentially a Starvation Line rather than a Poverty line. The Planning Commission estimates that in Madhya Pradesh, a family spending Rs 327.78 per person per month in rural settlement will be considered ‘poor’. In urban settlements, the expenditure level is Rs 570.15 per person per month, thus implying that a person spending anything more then Rs 9 every day in a village or Rs 19 in any kind of urban area will not be considered poor and will be excluded from poverty elimination programs.

In Madhya Pradesh, an estimated population of 249.68 lack people (38.3%) go to bed hungry, as they simply do not have access to resources to overcome this situation. Ironically, reviews of existing schemes like Sampoorna Gramin Rojgar Yojana or National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme show such communities as poor contributors and unwilling workers.

The roots lie in a system which neither allows them rights over natural resources nor enough income to overcome hunger. There have been no land reforms in Madhya Pradesh, despite the state government releasing the “Bhopal Declaration” at the beginning of this millennium which commits state priorities of land distribution to dalits. To add insult to injury, the state government has reduced the common grazing land available to the community, while it has been non-committal on ownership rights of the land inhabited by them for generations

It is now widely acknowledged that losing access to forest and forest produce has been highly detrimental for the tribal population in Madhya Pradesh and across India. The Forest Rights Act is a response to a growing belief within policy circles to correct this. The Act will improve the tribals’ access not only to land for agriculture, but also to non-timber forest produce, food items and give protection to livestock. A genuine implementation of Forest Rights Act would result in the handing over of rights of forest land and its resources to the 4 lakh tribal and other forest dwelling families.

This is the only expectation one has from those who set policy and govern. To respond to poverty not merely as a statistics but take measures that would bring the poor gradually out of its clutches, to move out from the safety of poverty definitions to address ground realties. (Charkha Features)

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