Monday, August 13, 2007

Truth hurts, but will eventually help

After many years of official pronouncements that the poverty level in India has declined to below 30%, an agency of the government has finally made it known that 77% of the country’s population lives on less than half a dollar per day (Reuters, August 10, 2007 India’s official statistics on poverty, on the other hand, gives an erroneous impression that the country is making major gains in reducing poverty.

Most people do not know that India uses a certain measurement of daily caloric intake of food as its yardstick for determining whether a person is poor or not. By the government’s reckoning, a person consuming more than $0.30 worth of food per day is not poor. Apart from the fact it is very difficult (and hence, the statistic is suspect) to ascertain how much food each person is consuming, India’s poverty statistic cannot be compared against those of other countries using the international standard of one dollar per day. Unfortunately, even the World Bank has failed to challenge India’s official statistics on poverty.

The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) just published a report based on data from 2004-2005 that 77% of Indians -- about 836 million people -- live on less than half a dollar a day. According to the report, most of those living on below 20 rupees (50 US cents) per day are from the informal labor sector with no job or social security, living in abject poverty.

I have been questioning the official statistics for many years now (for my recent blog on this, please see Based on our studies in Tamil Nadu state, we have observed rural poverty in excess of 80%, if the one dollar yardstick is used. Finally the government has confirmed what we have known all along as the truth about poverty in India.

Unfortunately, the media is still grossly behind the curve. Given that 3/4ths of India’s population lives on less than 50 cents a day, it follows that 3 out of 4 news articles on India would represent them and their plight. Yet, very few pieces on India deal with this humanitarian crisis; the emphasis is on “India Shining”, the wealthy minority, while the 836 million people living in poverty are given little voice. Until we are ready to look into the mirror and see our failings, nothing will change. It is my hope that this recent revelation will herald a new change in attitude towards facing the hard facts needed to find real solutions to poverty.

If you'd like to read the report by The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector, it is available here:

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1 comment:

Ben said...

India should put aside pride about her growing economy and concentrate on improving the lives of average citizens. Is India really a growing super power? Look at these numbers from the Unicef:

• 47 percent of Indian children under the age of five are either malnourished or stunted.
• The adult literacy rate is 61 percent (behind Rwanda and barely ahead of Sudan). Even this is probably overstated, as people are deemed literate who can do little more than sign their name.
• Only 10 percent of the entire Indian labor force works in the formal economy; of these fewer than half are in the private sector.
• The enrollment of six-to-15-year-olds in school has actually declined in the last year. About 40 million children who are supposed to be in school are not.
• About a fifth of the population is chronically hungry; about half of the world's hungry live in India.
• More than a quarter of the India population lives on less than a dollar a day.
• India has more people with HIV than any other country.
(Sources: UNDP, Unicef, World Food Program; Edward Luce)

As long as an average citizen's concern is not fully addressed, poverty will be always at the top agenda.