Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s invective against economist Amartya Sen for his comments on Narendra Modi. He also criticised the Centre’s latest poverty estimates as “a cruel joke on the poor.”

“Everyone has the freedom to express their views. No on can prevent another person from expressing them. If Amartya Sen is criticised and threatened that he would be stripped of his Bharat Ratna, then it is an autocratic stand [by the BJP]. It is against the basic principles of the Indian Constitution. No criticism would be enough to condemn it,” Mr. Kumar told reporters at the Vidhan Bhavan.

In view of the high poverty levels in Bihar, he slammed the recent poverty line of Rs. 32 and Rs. 27 for urban and rural areas respectively and termed the claims of Congress leaders of buying a meal for Rs. 5 and Rs. 12 as ridiculous.

“We do not agree with the poverty criteria. It underestimates the extent of poverty. The criteria of poverty should aim at meeting the basic needs of human beings so that they can live with dignity,” Mr. Kumar said.

“In 2008, the subject of poverty was discussed in depth at an international meet here and the conclusions were sent to the Prime Minister in the form of Patna Declaration. The criteria listed in that declaration should be the basis for determining poverty. The meaning of poverty is not destitution,” he said.

In the wake of the mid-day meal tragedy, he said implementing the scheme was a challenging task.

“More people need to be involved in implementing it. The State and the Centre have to run the scheme jointly. Till an alternative arrangement is put in place, teachers must extend their full cooperation in implementing the scheme,” Mr. Kumar said.

In Bihar, mid-day meal is not being served in nearly half of the 73,000 schools in the State owing to a boycott by teachers.