Friday, October 29, 2010

Poverty in India: Causes, Concerns and Solutions

This is Part-I of a three part series.

The tag of  a “Third World Country” itself gives an impression that India and fellow countries are third rated and the first picture that comes to our mind imagining a third world country, is of poor people and rampant poverty all over.

The mention of   population living under $1 per day flashes image of hunger, malnutrition, food scarcity, shabby surroundings and inhuman conditions .There is nothing wrong in the picture as this very fact becomes the basis of International Aids and other charities to flow in the country.

Can you really develop and sustain it with funds of charity? Can you come out of abject poverty with outside funds? Is this what you really mean as progressive democracy? If even one of the answers to these questions is a blunt “Yes” then this is the proof of psychological defect and absence of vision not only with the government but with all of us.

Looking back on what probably made the emergence of Poverty in India:-

Indian economy, even in the middle ages, was a self-reliant, self sufficient village economy where agriculture was the major profession and land was not an asset or property. The 'king-subject' type of state was the order of the day, where security was provided by king in lieu of agricultural products.

Then the entry of the foreign ruler allowed new ideas, pattern to emerge. The farmers and villagers were the most affected as the burden of tax increased and the monarch lost his power to the British.

British adopted land rules prevalent in Britain to rule India. This made the land an asset and resulted in emergence of landlords--a new breed of tyrants. The farmers became bonded labor in the same field where they worked earlier. Large sections of population were affected by this process and it resulted in what can be termed as the early phase of poverty.

By the time India became independent the segment under poverty was large and to quote any British based figure i.e. 75 per cent of population would be a flaw as there was no strict definition of poverty then. Post independence with planning led development, Planning Commission emerged as the national body to look at plans and schemes.  After lot of discussion of “how to gauge poverty“ - it was accepted to define Calorie Intake as criteria of defining poverty or Poverty Line.

Impact of poverty can be felt in the very aspect of human inhabitation and human existence. Now when world over India was termed as Population Bomb, where poorest of poor reside, we still followed western pattern of approach in solving social issues like poverty. The political colonialism might have gone with the emergence of India as a republic. But the colonialism of thoughts still exists, ideas of schemes were based on works of foreign economists and which had to fail ultimately and this burden of failure has become so large today that there exists a visible gap between the rich and the poor.

The ideas of economists took the shape of schemes. In 1970s “Garibi hatao” (Eliminate poverty), which was later as claimed by the opposition as “Garib ko Hatao” (Eliminate the Poor) programs emerged in the scenario. The statistical exercise of Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) was on every body’s lips without understanding its meaning and consequences ahead. It remains a challenge till today. We are still to find solution to poverty.

Let's assume the whole approach of fighting poverty is flawed. Let’s prove it:-
  • Calories are the basis of determining poverty but how are they calculated is not clear, as every one is not able to buy and eat, mostly people live on from their own produce from agricultural field. The persons going through restrictive diets or religious fasting also has total calorie intake less than defined so does that make them BPL for those days.  Thus there is no strict way. 
  • Schemes addressing poverty are not Demand based, rather depended on selection and implementation. i.e. government chooses people and decides them to be BPL and provides them fund to rise above BPL.
  • “Instant”   pattern of addressing an issue rather than step wise progressive approach. The programs are target oriented assuming that there is a poverty group roaming like tiger and with some big schemes like SJGSRY, JRY, one has to hit them and Bang!!! The target is hit and objective accomplished.
  • BPL acts more like Line Of Control (LOC) only pillar to pillar and no line actually. So most vaguely determined BPL decides the beneficiary of schemes. This approach assumes the person only eats and survives, has no other needs like, any cloth, family, education, engagement in any other activity, entertainment? Only consumes and lives.
  • All over the country geography is same and population are clones and there is this prestigious Calorie based Poverty line which demarcates one’s status in the eyes of Government as beneficiary eligible to benefit from schemes.
Well while the government was busy in deciding how to define poverty another new aspect emerged that was urban poverty, Now Poverty monster has 2 heads Urban and Rural. All the previous schemes also divided themselves in Rural & Urban.

As if following the biological principle of cell division, “Cell divides and reproduces cell”, poverty has been dividing itself to produce new kind of poverty. So it is very clear that even before government acts to address the problem a new one emerges, but in the name of implementation, government agency works on failed schemes. Thus the failure magnifies itself in this top – down approach which leads to more poverty.

All these are reasons enough to prove that the basis of fighting poverty is one of the most important cause of failure.


Abhilash Mohapatra not only thinks about India, but he is damn serious to contribute fruitfully in future.


  1. Sir Vidiya in his "In a Free State" laments: a poor only subdues another poor....not to be appreciated by hardcore Marxists though.

    however, i somewhat subscribe to that view.

    keep up the tempo.

  2. observations of such eminent people have come from Life's experience and true, Just read any of the speeches of Swami vivekananda about India. One would realise we haven't moved an inch from the era of 1890s..

  3. Very correctly said that the approach itself is flawed and this has led to multiple, varying percentage estimate of poor in our country...

    The worst sufferers are perhaps the ones who are barely above the so-called "poverty line" which keeps them outside the purview of schemes and other benefits...

    And yes, colonialism of thoughts still exist...and is most discernible... on the cultural platform...

  4. Agree with your point. Even the govt. seems to be fluctuating between three definitions of BPL, one by the NDC, one by the Planning Commission, and one by the Saxena Committee. The Census department, on the other hand is willing to give the Jean Dreze model for BPL identification a try in the present census. The formative motive of BPL criterion is exclusionist, not inclusionist; it wants to reject the apparently undeserving candidates, not to select the deserving.