“I feel Commission's motives are being perhaps wrongly understood”
Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday defended the widely criticised affidavit filed by the Commission before the Supreme Court. It had stated that Rs. 25 a day in rural areas constituted adequate private expenditure on food, education and health. Mr. Ahluwalia said the affidavit was “factually correct.”
He attributed the strong public reaction to a misreading of the affidavit, which, he said, was not “any new policy decision” but simply a “factual explanation” given to the Supreme Court on how poverty lines were calculated based on the findings of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee.
The poverty line estimate, he stressed, would not decide benefits or entitlements to food subsidies, which would be separate policy decisions for the government to take.
“I feel the Planning Commission's motives are being perhaps wrongly understood,” Mr. Ahluwalia told Indian reporters in Beijing, where he is heading the Indian delegation at the first Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) with China. He said it was not the Commission's objective “to deny anybody benefits,” the provision of which was a separate issue for the government.
According to the poverty estimate in the affidavit, the percentage of people below the poverty line, based on 2009-10 data, was 32, seen by many as too small a section of the population entitled to certain benefits. Mr. Ahluwalia stressed that it was incorrect to suggest, based on the affidavit, that the Commission wanted to restrict the food subsidy to 32 per cent.
“In all the internal discussions, I have certainly been quite supportive that we can manage 41 per cent,” he clarified.
Mr. Ahluwalia said the Commission was also of the view that there was no unique logic as to what should be the poverty line, as poverty was a “multi-dimensional concept.”
“Many people…have sort of misread the affidavit, and I have heard people say things like, ‘How can you expect anybody to feed a family on Rs. 32 a day?',” he said. “The factual position is that this number is a per capita number …and if you are talking about a family of five, you have to multiply this by about five.”
“Per person a day”
“In the affidavit,” he added, “we have indicated, first of all, that this is the number that the Tendulkar Committee recommended when we asked them to look at the poverty line. The Tendulkar numbers are expressed as per person per day, and some people have confused that with what it would require to feed a family.”
“If people feel that this poverty line is too low,” Mr. Ahluwalia added, “I am not sure what we can do because this is the Tendulkar recommendation. Maybe we can appoint another committee, but that is about all.”