How should the government grapple with poverty estimates? A richness line is suggested by Right to Food campaigners

Left to grapple with varying poverty estimates proposed by its committees, the government should think of defining a richness line for a better picture of adversity in the country, the Bihar Chapter of the Right to Food Campaign has proposed.

The Campaign at the national level is led by activists such as Aruna Roy, Jean Drèze and Harsh Mander among others.

“Poverty figures are still a controversial issue. It’s just a numbers game and the Congress as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party, both are at fault for this. A richness line would be easy to estimate as a low percentage of people would need to be counted. The government should look at its taxpayers’ list,” said Mr. Rupesh, a member of the Campaign and advisor to the Commissioner of Supreme Court in the case registered by the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) regarding right to food.

Welcoming the proposition as “an intelligent move”, Shaibal Gupta, development economist at the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna, told The Hindu: “Ideally I would prefer universal public distribution system, but if income tax payers are barred, identification of beneficiaries and distribution would not be a problem.”

“If you are rich, you will yourself not go to seek the PDS food grain,” he remarked.

India currently ranks 66th on the Hunger Index globally. “Eradicating hunger should be a must agenda for us. Food is a basic right in a knowledge society,” Mr. Gupta said. Calling for a richness line would evidently bloat up the poverty statistics, a move the government would not find feasible. “On any social sector programme,” he said, “the government’s strategy has been to sabotage it. I don’t differ from the suggestion of having a richness line.”

The Bihar Campaign has called for a “time-bound” grievance redressal mechanism as well as holding local public representatives accountable for lacunae in the implementation of food schemes.

In light of the high percentage of child malnutrition and anaemia among women, providing grain alone would not address these problems. “Dal and oil should also be provided. Moreover, the diversion of grain for the production of liquor should be stopped. Around 10 lakh metric tonnes of food grain is stored in government warehouses. This year the food grain production has been around 250 million metric tonnes. There is enough grain to be distributed to the poor,” Mr. Rupesh said.

He said the proposed National Food Security Bill does not meet the demand of 35 kg food grain for each family. The Bill proposes five kg person per month, which when calculated for an average family size of five, amounts to only 25 kg per family.