In a climate of spiralling prices and high cost of living, the Government thinks that individuals can survive in a city like Delhi even on a measly monthly expense of Rs 965.
This, according to the Planning Commission, will be the new benchmark to count the number of below-poverty-line (BPL) families.
Suggesting this in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the plan panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the “provisional” estimates of poverty line redrawn based on the price level of June 2011. While Rs 965 was the consumption expense for cities, the corresponding figure for rural areas was fixed at Rs 781 per month. This was definitely a march ahead of the conservative estimates maintained by the Centre at Rs 579 (urban) and Rs 447 (rural) that led the court to scoff at the Centre.
The court, while monitoring the implementation of the public distribution scheme (PDS), was shocked to find “unrealistic” subsidised grain entitlement was available to families earning Rs 20 per day in urban cities and Rs 17 per day in rural areas. Going by this estimate, worked on the basis of 2004-05 prices, the BPL population stood at 40.74 crore.
In its latest clarification affidavit, filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, the plan panel revealed its new figures. “At June 2011 price levels, for a family of five this provisional poverty line would amount to Rs 4,824 per month in urban areas and Rs 3,905 per month in urban areas.”
As per the revised estimate, the Commission said that the total BPL population decreased to 35.89 crore. Commenting on this drop the affidavit said, “The provisional estimates suggest that the total BPL population as per 2009-10 estimation may be lower than that which would have emerged from the Tendulkar report on 2004-05 projections.” It was on the recommendation of the Tendulkar Committee the Government prepared the poverty line estimates based on 2004 prices.
At the same time, the Commission clarified that the final poverty line cut off figure would take time as the exercise involved compilation of data received from National Sample Survey (NSS). “These will vary from State to State because of price differentials,” the Commission added.
On the calorie intake front, the Commission was cautious to disassociate itself from the poverty line reading. The bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma had commented on a previous occasion “It is impossible for an individual in an urban area to consume 2100 calories in Rs 20 and an individual in rural area to consume 2400 calories in Rs 15.”
But the affidavit did indicate an estimate of 2004-05 based on NSS data to get around the calorie intake issue. As per the data, the average monthly cereal consumption of families near the poverty line worked out to be 60.80 kg in rural and 51.20 kg in urban areas. Even pulses’ consumption for each such family per month was estimated at 3.22 kg (rural) and 3.31 kg (urban).