Introduction: In our daily life, we come across many people who we think are poor. They could be landless labourers in villages or people living in overcrowded jhuggis in cities. They could be daily wage workers at construction sites or child workers in dhabas. Roughly 260 million (or 26 crore) people in India live in poverty. India has the largest single concentration of the poor in the world. This illustrates the seriousness of the challenge.
Following issues are related to poverty:
Poverty as seen by social scientists:-
Since poverty has many facets, social scientists look at it through a variety of indicators. Usually the indicators used relate to the levels of income and consumption. But now poverty is looked through other social indicators like illiteracy level, lack of general resistance due to malnutrition, lack of access to healthcare, lack of job opportunities, lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation etc. Analysis of poverty based on social exclusion and vulnerability is now becoming very common.
According to this concept, poverty must be seen in terms of the poor having to live only in a poor surrounding with other poor people, excluded from enjoying social equality of better -off people in better surroundings. Social exclusion can be both a cause as well as a consequence of poverty in the usual sense. Broadly, it is a process through which individuals or groups are excluded from facilities, benefits and opportunities that others (their “betters”) enjoy.
Vulnerability to poverty is a measure, which describes the greater probability of certain communities (say, members of a backward caste) or individuals (such as a widow or a physically handicapped person) of becoming, or remaining, poor in the coming years. Vulnerability is determined by the options available to different communities for finding an alternative living in terms of assets, education, health and job opportunities. Further, it is analysed on the basis of the greater risks these groups face at the time of natural disasters (earthquakes, tsunami), terrorism etc. In fact, vulnerability describes the greater probability of being more adversely affected than other people when bad time comes for everybody, whether a flood or an earthquake or simply a fall in the availability of jobs!
A common method used to measure poverty is based on the income or consumption levels. A person is considered poor if his or her income or consumption level falls below a given “minimum level” necessary to fulfill basic needs. What is necessary to satisfy basic needs is different at different times and in different countries. Therefore, poverty line may vary with time and place. Each country uses an imaginary line that is considered appropriate for its existing level of development and its accepted minimum social norms. While determining the poverty line in India, a minimum level of food requirement, clothing, footwear, fuel and light, educational and medical requirement etc. are determined for subsistence. The accepted average calorie requirement in India is 2400 calories per person per day in rural areas and 2100 calories per person per day in urban areas. However, for making comparisons between developing countries, many international organisations like the World Bank use a uniform standard for the poverty line: minimum availability of the equivalent of $1 per person per day.
There is substantial decline in poverty ratios in India from about 55 per cent in 1973 to 36 per cent in 1993. The proportion of people below poverty line further came down to about 26 per cent in 2000. If the trend continues, people below poverty line may come down to less than 20 per cent in the next few years. Although the percentage of people living under poverty declined in the earlier two decades (1973– 1993), the number of poor remained stable around 320 million for a fairly long period. The latest estimates indicate a significant reduction in the number of poor to about 260 million.
The proportion of people below poverty line is also not same for all social groups and economic categories in India. Social groups which are most vulnerable to poverty are scheduled caste and scheduled tribe households. Similarly, among the economic groups, the most vulnerable groups are the rural agricultural labour households and the urban casual labour households. 51 out of 100 people belonging to scheduled tribes are not able to meet their basic needs. Similarly, 50 per cent of casual workers in urban areas are below poverty line. About 50 per cent of landless agricultural workers and 43 per cent of scheduled castes are also poor. Apart from these social groups, there is also inequality of incomes within a family. In poor families all suffer, but some suffer more than others. Women, elderly people and female infants are systematically denied equal access to resources available to the family. Therefore women, children (especially the girl child) and old people are poorest of the poor.
Poverty in India also has another aspect or dimension. Recent estimates show that in 20 states and union territories, the poverty ratio is less than the national average. On the other hand, poverty is still a serious problem in Orissa, Bihar, Assam, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh. Orissa and Bihar continue to be the two poorest states with poverty ratios of 47 and 43 per cent respectively. Along with rural poverty urban poverty is also high in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In comparison, there has been a significant decline in poverty in Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, TamilNadu, Gujarat and West Bengal. States like Punjab and Haryana have traditionally succeeded in reducing poverty with the help of high agricultural growth rates. Kerala has focused more on human resource development. In West Bengal, land reform measures have helped in reducing poverty. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu public distribution of food grains could have been responsible for the improvement.
The proportion of people in developing countries living in extreme economic poverty— defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1 per day—has fallen from 28 per cent in 1990 to 21 per cent in 2001. Although there has been a substantial reduction in global poverty, it is marked with great regional differences. Poverty declined substantially in China and Southeast Asian countries as a result of rapid economic growth and massive investments in human resource development. Number of poors in China has come down from 606 million in 1981 to 212 million in 2001. In the countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan) the decline has not been as rapid. Despite decline in the percentage of the poor, the number of poor has declined marginally from 475 million in 1981 to 428 million in 2001. Because of different poverty line definition, poverty in India is also shown higher than the national estimates. In Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty in fact rose from 41 per cent in 1981 to 46 per cent in 2001. The Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations calls for reducing the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day to half the 1990 level by 2015.
Causes of Poverty
1. Less job opportunity & low growth rate of incomes.
2. High growth rate of population.
3. Huge income inequalities.
4. Unequal distribution of land & other resources.
5. Lack of proper implementation of policy
Removal of poverty has been one of the major objectives of Indian developmental strategy. The current anti-poverty strategy of the government is based broadly on two planks
(1) promotion of economic growth
(2) targeted anti-poverty programmes.
Although there are so many schemes which are formulated to affect poverty directly or indirectly, some of them are worth mentioning.
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) 2005: was passed in September 2005. The Act provides 100 days assured employment every year to every rural household in 200 districts. Later, the scheme will be extended to 600 districts. One third of the proposed jobs would be reserved for women. The central government will also establish National Employment Guarantee Funds. Similarly state governments will establish State Employment Guarantee Funds for implementation of the scheme. Under the programme if an applicant is not provided employment within fifteen days s/he will be entitled to a daily unemployment allowance.
National Food for Work Programme(NFWP): was launched in 2004 in 150 most backward districts of the country. The programme is open to all rural poor who are in need of wage employment and desire to do manual unskilled work. It is implemented as a 100 per cent centrally sponsored scheme and foodgrains are provided free of cost to the states. Once the NREGA is in force, the NFWP will be subsumed within this programme.
Prime Minister Rozgar Yozana (PMRY): was started in 1993. The aim of the programme is to create self employment opportunities for educated unemployed youth in rural areas and small towns. They are helped in setting up small business and industries.
Rural Employment Generation Programme(REGP): was launched in 1995. The aim of the programme is to create selfemployment opportunities in rural areas and small towns. A target for creating 25 lakh new jobs has been set for the programme under the Tenth Five Year plan.
Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY): was launched in 1999. The programme aims at bringing the assisted poor families above the poverty line by organising them into self help groups through a mix of bank credit and government subsidy.
Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yozana (PMGY): launched in 2000, additional central assistance is given to states for basic services such as primary health, primary education, rural shelter, rural drinking water and rural electrification.