Poverty is the issue. Prime minister Narendra Modi has struck the right chord at his meeting at Ballia, in eastern UP, one of the regions with the highest number of people below the poverty line.
It is an opportunity to reshape Indian economy and start the process for ending disparity and inequality for actual development of the country.
The abysmal state of affairs can be ascribed to historical reasons. That does not justify a national under-performance for 69 years. But it indicates that professional economist, political masters and planners have not been able to strike the issue and suggest the right course to ensure equilibrium and equal opportunities.
Poverty is beyond lack of income. It is multi-dimensional, encompassing economic, social and governance perspectives. The poor are not only deprived of income and resources, but of opportunities. Markets and jobs are often difficult to access, because of low capabilities, geographical and social exclusion. The poor have fragile position with inadequate nutrition, health care and education.
The prime minister has taken many initiatives including Jan dhan,beti bachao,beti padhao Sukanya smariddhi yojana, kisan bima yojna, Atal pension plan, PM jeevan jyoti jeevan bima yojana, Atal mission for rejuvenation and urban transformation (AMRUT), PM Awas Yojana, Heritage city development and augmentation yojana (HRIDAYA).
There are also schemes which are of long term nature like make in India, start up India, stand up India, skill India. As these take shape ultimately it would help the poor. It also needs to be understood that the prime minister was talking about those who are at bottom of the poverty line.
There are categories of poor and owing to various policies followed from 2004-14, even many middle class families have virtually slipped to the edge of the poverty line. Those at the bottom need a more sympathetic approach. Those with BPL card, now a status symbol in rural areas, are considered better off. The erstwhile Planning Commission’s definition of poverty lines as per capita monthly expenditure of Rs 26 for the rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas cannot be the yardstick. Nor the calculation at calorific values can be.
Staggering as the overall official numbers remain — 240 million rural and 72 million urban poor — they do not tell the full story of change. Social indicators of well-being, for instance, record a history of progress that has, like the decline of poverty itself, been slow.
While economic inequality — as measured by the Gini coefficient — within regions varies little from the poorest regions to the more fortunate, the Gini coefficient does not capture the gender and social inequalities that persist in India. These inequalities severely constrain the extent to which certain groups in the population are able to participate in and benefit from the process of economic growth.
This requires a thorough study. A break from the past in definition, approach and action is the requirement. Modi government is credited with innovative ideas. It has to make the process of studying poverty not as a mere statistical data but as a socio-economic problem that is different in different areas. The indicator has to reflect that.
The 1991 so-called reforms has not led to improvements in the living standards of the country’s at least 40 crore poor. Agriculture that was the mainstay of Indian economy and still the backbone is in shambles. With this the rural and urban poor have led to clogging of the path to progress.
In reality, rural poverty has clogged the urban areas. Poorer farming and rural community has led to massive migration and abysmal living conditions in the metros and large townships across the country. The cities have emerged as the testimonial of failure of Indian economy. Terming it as progress or growth is a bit misnomer.
During the last few decades, India’s inward-looking and public sector driven industrialization strategy led to rates of growth and poverty reduction far more modestly than those witnessed elsewhere in the world, particularly in South East Asia. The last five years have shown the rates of growth that India could achieve with market oriented development policies and a better integration with the world economy. The benefit of this growth has not reached the larger population.
Many actions are suggested by Mahatma Gandhi and refined by Deen Dayal Upadhyay. The RSS-linked organisations have started experimenting with the cluster village programmes. The prime minister has to take it up as a priority to decide the course. Seven decades have been wasted. If India cannot get rid of this syndrome in the next two decades, its dream of being the next super entity may end up as nightmare.
Yes, the nation has to overcome its tremendous infrastructure problems, improve the efficiency of its financial system, and liberalize parts of the economy that remain heavily regulated — such as agriculture, small scale industry and urban land markets.
By maintaining its commitment to economic liberalization, and redirecting towards infrastructure, health, and education the large resources now absorbed by subsidies inter-alia for power, irrigation, and fertilizers, India can give its long battle to reduce poverty a new impetus.
Subsidies per se are bad; the 1991 economic concept propagated it. That is the greatest untruth.
Indian economy progressed with subsidized education, food, fuel and transport system. Affordable government schools have created the brains in 1950s to early 1980s that are ruling the world today. It is called “brain gain”. The new economic concepts have to endorse it so that people are able to educate their children without tightening the belt.
Expensive education from primary levels has led to emergence of a generation of moderately employed parents, who remain half fed or often unfed. It is a great economic danger. Poor parents can hardly have stronger children.
The syndrome has spread to every sphere of life. Market means exploitation and profiteering. It accentuated the poverty syndrome. The study on poverty has to go beyond the classical routine to include new pastures.
India therefore urgently needs to formulate an anti-poverty strategy that is finely targeted to those who truly cannot benefit from the opportunities offered by growth. Modi must focus on prosperity of the poor for a strong India – sammridhh janata sashakt bharat.