This is a very critical question. All planning and the whole budget exercise hinges around the definition of the poor. The Planning Commission of India had earlier defined a poor person as one whose daily income did not exceed rupees 32. In US dollar terms it comes to around 62 cents. It had raised a lot of debate then and the matter went up to the court too.The matter remains undecided as yet.
In the Bombay High Court, another case is being contested. That too relates to the definition of poor. The case relates to the Parsi Panchayat. The Parsi Panchayat has constructed some flats for its members. One of the members of the community, who was affected by the criterion for allotment moved the court and the court asked the Panchayat to state which members qualified as poor. The Parsi Panchayat submitted to the court that a person earning up to Rs 50000(fifty thousand) per month fell in the category of poor. There must be sound logic in the calculations made by the Parsi Panchayat, who would not make any submission to the court without being sure of the grounds.
Today the Planning Commission of India has released estimates of poverty for the year 2009-10. According to these figures, the total number of poor in the country has been estimated at 34.47 crores in 2009-10 as against 40.72 crores in 2004-05.
It is in this context that the definition of “poor” assumes criticality. Without an accepted definition of poor, claims to success in reduction of poverty from 40+ to 34+ crores is not convincing. The pathetic situation is that poverty has increased during this period, by spreading to even better looking segments of the society. Urban poverty has yet to be understood. The vote bank politics has been thriving on insincere slogans like garibi hatao or remove poverty. Traditional avenues of employment got disrupted. The cost of public services has gone up many times. The flawed logic of employing market price to everything has increased prices beyond the reach of the aam aadmi, who was pulling on somehow by leading a miserable existence, part of which survived on loans. India is a society whose majority of population is in perennial personal debt. People die because they cannot afford to pay for medical services and drugs or surgery. School, college and university dropout rates are depressing ever since market pricing of education became a fad with the government during this period.
The absence of the definition of poor has made Finance Minister after Finance Minister to present a budget that has failed to extract India from the British Raj to the India of 21st Century. Some budget making personnel sees the aam aadmi with a mobile phone in his hand around Vijaya Chowk while going to his office in North Block and sells the brilliant idea of taxing everyone owning a mobile phone and the Finance Minister gleefully accepts such revenue generating ideas! What the Finance Minister should have done was to grant tax concession to an entrepreneur who produced the best mobile phone in the world, and granted liberal reward to the team of researchers and product developers. Thanks to internet and email services, the nation’s time is not wasted in third class rhymes on sparing the Post Card from increase in prices, on the demand of the trade unions! But Paan Masaalaa still stains the budget ! The major portion of the revenues come from the undefined category of poor, who are indirectly encouraged to consume liquor, smoke Bidi/cigarettes, go to cinema and buy garments made of manmade fibre- all supposedly carcinogenic products, harmful to the body from skin to the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver.
Can we have the definition of the poor before we make any claims to poverty reduction in India? Even 35 crores of poor is a very big number, bigger than the whole population of several nations individually. People don’t eat statistics: they need bread and butter. Democracy gets discredited if so many million poor live in India in 2012