Poverty policy to remain data deficient till 2024


Photo credit Twitter UNDP India

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, December 1: The Narendra Modi government celebrated the report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI), which was based on deprivation scales on components with focus on education, nutrition, health and amenities.

The UNDP report hailed India for faster reduction of poverty, but subsequent deep-diving of the data released by the report revealed that most of the gains were made in access of electricity and sanitation, which recorded 11.4 per cent and 25.3 per cent contribution during 2015-16 to 2019-21, and both account for improved amenities without any tangible correlation to improved purchasing power of the people or their consumption capacity. The third largest contributor in the reduction of poverty as per the UNDP was the access to drinking water with a contribution of 8.5 per cent.

The NITI Aayog, which succeeded the Planning Commission, which had last drawn the poverty line in India, has thrown its towel on the poverty debate, saying that the think tank would go by the UNDP report, which has been questioned by independent economists for lack of data credibility. It may be recalled that the government had rejected Consumer Expenditure Survey for 2017-18 on the grounds that the data were not authentic. The economists are largely basing their arguments on the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

Now, it appears that the economists will have to weigh their arguments in the data darkness, for the next Consumer Expenditure Survey will not come before 2024 by when India will head into the Lok Sabha elctions. The Niti Aayog vice chairman Suman Bery told PTI in an interview that “we will be in a position to calculate a new poverty line once there is a Consumer Expenditure Survey, which I think Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation  (MOSPI) is now expecting to come out in 2024”.

Bery also said that the “Niti Aayog is comfortable with the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) released by the UNDP last year by utilising 12 key components which cover areas such as health and nutrition, education and standard of living”.

The reference period for the next Household Consumer Expenditure Survey will be 2022-2023. It may also be noted that the Census 2021 has also not been completed, and the exercise has been extended on the alibi of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Niti Aayog, which is the principal think tank of the government, has lent its support to a report of an international agency for its poverty estimation in the country.

Ironically, the decline in the deprivation level to arrive at the MPI is largely on account of the government’s welfare schemes – drinking water, housing, electrification, rural and urban sanitation, nutrition mission. The report nowhere mentions improved purchasing power of the people who are claimed to have been pulled out of poverty. That may explain the government continuing with the free foodgrain scheme for 80 crore people under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna, which costs the exchequer Rs 80,000 crores for six months. The schemes, costing Rs 1.60 lakh crore, is in operation since 2020.

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