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 http://abrahamgeorge.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html). 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: http://nceus.gov.in/Executive_Summary_08082007.pdf.
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