‘Panel's affidavit skirted main issues of why should there be poverty line that determines BPL “caps” and to re-consider poverty line'

The Right to Food Campaign on Thursday asked the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to explain how the per capita poverty line expenditure of Rs. 25 per day in rural and Rs. 32 per day in urban area could be normatively ‘adequate' as the panel had claimed in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court last week.

Seeking Mr. Ahluwalia's resignation on the issue, the Campaign said, “If it cannot be explained then the affidavit should be withdrawn or else you should resign.”

In an “open letter'' to Mr. Ahluwalia, the Campaign, a conglomeration of civil society groups, said the affidavit could not have come at a worse time when food inflation was pushing poor households to the wall, even as [over] 60 million tonnes of [food] grains were piling in the Food Corporation of India godowns “implying that the government itself is hoarding grains to increase food prices.''

The Campaign considered it an affront to the poor and the Supreme Court that the panel's affidavit skirted the main issues of why should there be a poverty line that determines the Below Poverty Line (BPL) “caps” and to re-consider the poverty line.

Questioning Mr. Ahluwalia on his statement that the poverty line had no relationship to food subsidy, the Campaign said that “yet all central government allocations for programmes such as the Public Distribution System, pensions etc. were based on poverty ratios. “Further, after drawing a ridiculously low poverty line you suggest caps on the BPL category as well as a 41 per cent cap on food subsidy which is a contradiction in terms.”

During his recent visit to China, Mr. Ahluwalia had said that the affidavit was “factually correct.” The Campaign, however, said that the panel claims need to be examined against the fact of India being home to the largest number of hungry people, people without the advantage of education, and the highest maternal and infant mortality deaths in the world and that households at this poverty line were getting 20 per cent less food than they required as per government norms. “Mr. Ahluwalia, perhaps you need to reflect more on the fact that during your stewardship of the Planning Commission, India has fallen further behind neighbouring and poorer Bangladesh, in terms of most of the human development indicators,” said the Campaign.

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