(Image from World Bank.)
The reason? The Indian Government’s Planning Commission just published a report which re-defines what it means to be poor, and in the process they magically removed a huge chunk of the population from the official figures for people living below the poverty line. And so they’ve changed who is, and who isn’t, eligible for government subsidies due to being on the BPL (Below Poverty Line) list.
32 Rupees per day is the new limit they have just announced. According to the PC if you spend more than Rs 32 a day on Food, Health and Education then you’re above the poverty line. And this figure is just for city-dwellers — for rural areas the figure is now Rs 25 per day.
The World Bank’s definition of poverty, meanwhile, is living on less than US$ 1.25 a day. Not surprisingly, there’s been something of an outcry in the media here, as well as widespread disbelief. Adequate Food, Health and Education on almost exactly HALF of what’s widely-considered to be the absolute minimum? And this doesn’t even consider Fuel, Transport or Housing… I regularly see families here living on the building sites where they work, and collecting firewood wherever they can in the city so that they can cook, but does the government seriously see this as the norm?
As a bit of context, here in Bangalore my 10-minute rickshaw journey to work typically costs me between Rs 30 and Rs 50, each way, depending on how kindly or ruthless the driver is, and whether I can be bothered to haggle or not. My lunch usually costs around Rs 130 in total, although that’s in a food court in a shopping mall, and I could get a veg thali and a drink of water from a grubby café for about Rs 35. I bought a pack of 15 paracetamol on the way home today for Rs 16. I’ve no idea what education costs, but I pay my maid Rs 400 to cook and clean once a week and she struggles to put her 3 children through school and is always asking if I know anyone else she could also work for. (If she needs more cash I am happy to invent extra jobs that “need doing”.)
Meanwhile, things are only going to get worse. Inflation in India was running at 9.78% last month (a 13-month high), and has been over 8% for a year now, which makes it the worst among the so-called BRIC countries. And food inflation has been even higher while I’ve been living here — rising above 10% earlier in the year (and again last month), and causing a notorious crisis over the price of onions.
So it’s a bit of an understatement to say that this really doesn’t seem like a good time to be fudging the figures so blatantly. From the initial response in the media and on Twitter it seems like the government will end up paying quite a price for this, and you can bet it will be way more than Rs 32.