Asia - Pacific

Indian expert says government needs to know number of people in poverty

Aasha Kapur Mehta says first step to tackling poverty is acknowledging extent of problem by measuring accurately

Ahmad Adil   | 17.10.2021
Indian expert says government needs to know number of people in poverty File Photo


There is a need to address "chronic poverty" and the "dynamics of poverty" in India, a leading expert in India said as the world observes International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Sunday.

The last official estimate of poverty was released by India's Planning Commission in 2011, which put the population below the poverty line at 21.92%.

"To address poverty effectively, people who formulate alleviation programs need to understand and address chronic poverty and the dynamics of poverty," Aasha Kapur Mehta, former economics professor at the Indian Institute of Public Administration New Delhi told Anadolu Agency.

"We know, for instance, that poverty is especially prevalent among certain occupational groups. Casual agricultural labor is the largest group that is stuck in poverty, as per data from the socio-economic caste census. These are the ‘working poor,’ for whom the state has not been able to secure the right to an adequate means of livelihood."

She said financial and physical resources allocated to poverty reduction programs need to "increase substantially" in view of the massive scale on which poverty is experienced.

Mehta, who chairs the Centre for Gender Studies at the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi, said the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the plight of those who are poor.

"What needs to be understood is that poverty is not static but is dynamic. While a large number of those who are poor are stuck in poverty, there are many who are able to move out of it. There are others who were not poor but who suffer a shock and get impoverished," she noted.

"It is important to measure, how many people who were not poor earlier have become poor as well as understand what shocks (such as Covid-19) they suffered that led to their impoverishment and how this can be prevented."

A report by an Indian university earlier this year said 230 million Indians were pushed into poverty amid the virus pandemic.

Mehta maintained that there is a need to estimate the number of people who are stuck in poverty and "understand the structural factors, such as landlessness and low wages for labor, due to which people are stuck in poverty and how these can be addressed."

"On the other hand, we must also estimate how many people have moved out of poverty and what enabled them to do this," she said.

The number of people in poverty in India has always been large, according to Mehta.

"The fact that we stopped estimating poverty after 2011-12, didn’t make the poverty problem go away. However, whether measured or not, poverty, chronic poverty and the dynamics of poverty have remained the biggest development challenge that has faced us since Independence," she said.

Since 2011, no official estimates of poverty have been officially released. The government has said it "accords high priority to the issue of poverty alleviation in India."

Mehta said not having an exact number of poor in the country is serious.

"It is true that we do not have any recent estimates of the number of people who are poor in India. This is a serious issue because the first step in tackling a problem is to understand the extent of the problem. The same is true of poverty," she said. "The first step to tackling poverty is that we acknowledge the extent of the problem by measuring it accurately."

"The last set of official estimates that we have are for 2011-12. The estimates for 2011-12 were that 265.7 million people were poor and 21.9 % of the population was below the poverty line. These estimates of poverty are based on poverty lines that were low. If poverty lines are raised even marginally, the number of people in poverty will rise sharply," she added.

Number of programs

India has implemented a large number of programs to attack poverty through generating work, providing health care, education, nutrition and support to remote areas and vulnerable groups, said Mehta. But she said the amount allocated are inadequate given the size of the problem.

She said identifying people who are in poverty is missing.

"What is missing is a systematic attempt to identify people who are in poverty, determine their needs, address them and enable them to move above the poverty line. The resources allocated to anti-poverty programs are inadequate," Mehta added.

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