A couple of years ago, everybody’s favourite statistic was 54 per cent, fifty-four being the percentage of India’s population below 25 years of age. Here, there, everywhere, the number was quoted, but at least with a reasonable degree of accuracy.
Not so, the international poverty standard.
The World Bank uses a global indicator of incomes—of $1 per person per day or $2 per person per day—to compute poverty. By that yardstick, considered arbitrary by some, surely you would expect some degree of unanimity on the percentage of India’s population living below the poverty line?
Well, keep expecting.
90 per cent: The Asian Development Bank said two years ago that “at least 90 percent of people” live on less than $1 a day in India, China and some Southeast Asian countries.
77 per cent: The columnist Praful Bidwai said in Bangalore this week that 77 per cent of the population lives on less than Rs. 20 a day, or half a dollar.
54 per cent: In May this year, Newsweek reported that in 1985, 93 per cent of India’s population lived on less than $1 per day; by 2005, it was 54 per cent.
52.5 per cent: The Washington Post, quoting the same World Bank, said in August 1997 that 52.5 per cent of Indians earned less than $1 a day.
50 per cent: Ramtanu Maitra wrote in Executive Intelligence Review in December 2006 that 450 million Indians (or a little less than 50 per cent) lived below the World Bank’s old definition of $1 per day per persion, and that 700 million Indians (or almost 70 per cnet) lived below the poverty line based on the World bank’s new definition of a minimum earning of $2 per day per person.
Nearly 50 per cent: Seven years ago, Mary Motta asked if India should be so hung up on a moon mission when nearly half of its population lives below the poverty line.
33 per cent: Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad writes in the latest issue of Prospect that 300 million Indians (roughly 33 per cent) live on less than $1 a day
33 per cent: The International Herald Tribune, quoting the World Bank, said in Janaury 2006 that one in three earn less than $1 a day, i.e. 33 per cent.
30 per cent: The Christian Science Monitor, quoting the Indian census, says 30 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day; 78 percent on less than $2.
26 per cent: Social anthropologist Diana Wells, quoting the 2001 census, wrote in 2001 that the number of people who earned $1 a day had declined from 36 per cent to 26 per cent.
25 per cent: Xinhua news agency, quoting India’s minister for rural development and poverty alleviation, reported in 2002 that 260.25 million people earned less than $1 a day, which was a marked decline from 1993- 94, when 320 million people were below the poverty line.
25 per cent: Union Minister P. Chidambaram told Charlie Rose two years ago that the number of Indians earning less than $1 a day was 250 million, or slightly short of 25 per cent of the population.
20 per cent: A World Food Prize winning high school essay pegged the number of people earning less than $1 a day at 200,000,000 or 200 million, or a fifth of the population , i.e. 20 per cent.
So, what’s your favourite number?
$1 of course. It means that people can actually live on $1 a day. It’d be interesting to see how those percentages diminished from 70 plus to 30 minus over the years. And how many of them increased their incomes to $2 or 3 or 4 a day and how many of those living on $1 a day ceased to exist.
Poverty is a money spinner for Govt in terms of aids from International banks & such. Why kill the golden goose by finding the correct number?
Poverty and illiteracy. As long as people are illiterate and uneducated every one can exploit them. They will be remembered just before elections, rasta tokos, strikes and bandhs and they will be conveninetly forgotten. Hence the favourite no. should be FIVE -year plans, elections once in five years…
Interesting! I found it relevant to an article I wrote for my blog, so referenced it too, thanks!
I guess $2 limit would not be a good indicator for poverty in India. $60/month/person equates to a household income of Rs.12000 for a 5 person household and in most regions in India, this is definitely a middle class income, not even lower-middle class one. In a lot of villages that I’ve lived and studied, I guestimate that Rs.1000-2000/month could safely put that family out of abject poverty. $1 could be a more closer indicator but for abject poverty, I would put something like 50cents/day. And, in rural india, most transactions go under the radar, where people either exchange favors for most things that we would like to count as an economic transaction. So, more important than money other social indicators like access to water, sanitation and education are more reliable indicators of poverty.
It pays to remain poor and atleast lend a notion that India continues to live in abject poverty, while statistics is a subject that i abhor, showing poor figures might as well lead some philanthropists and banks to pump money. that way we are better placed than those who flaunt their wealth earned on credit.
Check this paper out:
Mohan Guruswamy and Ronald Joseph Abraham, Redefining Poverty, Economic and Political Weekly, June 24, 2006.
My favorite number is 0%. We have to hope, pray and strive for 0% people below the poverty line, 0% illiteracy and 0% exploitation , 0% corruption. I know it is not possible, but there is some meaning in having a lofty goal.
$1 per capita daily is Rs 1200 a month.
25% i sthe commonly quoted figures in recent times.On the household incomes there is wide disparity regionwise .
now with economy at scorching pace ,bold steps by the GOVT & BROAD MINDEDNESS amomg India”s successful classes can easily bring down the percentage for a INDIA without poverty