In a startling affidavit before the Supreme Court, the Planning Commission has said an individual income of just Rs. 25 a day constitutes adequate “private expenditure on food, education and health.”
The affidavit, submitted on Tuesday, bases its assertion on the findings of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, which pegged the poverty line at Rs. 447 a month, or about Rs. 15 a day, at 2004-2005 prices.
Experts reacted with dismay to the affidavit. National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy said it reflected the government's lack of empathy for the poor. “This extremely low estimated expenditure is aimed at artificially reducing the number of persons Below the Poverty Line and thus reduce government expenditure on the poor,” she alleged.
Planning Commission Member Abhijit Sen admitted that the affidavit did not answer what the court had asked for — clear criteria on who would qualify for subsidised foodgrains from the government.
“The poverty line figures in the affidavit are the ones arrived at by the Tendulkar Committee and the government has to accept those. But, I agree, this affidavit does not address the issue of who is entitled to a BPL card.”
In its affidavit, the Commission says the total BPL population now being served by the Public Distribution System is 35.98 crore. The Tendulkar Committee had called for that number to be revised to 40.74 crore, on the basis of the projected population on March 1, 2005.
However, the affidavit states the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data and provisional estimates “suggest that the total BPL population may be lower than what would have emerged from [the] Tendulkar [report].”
Commission sources said their affidavit relied on the NSSO and Tendulkar Committee findings, and did not make any independent claim.
The Committee said its “proposed poverty lines have been validated by checking the adequacy of actual private expenditure per capita near the poverty lines on food, education and health by comparing them with normative expenditures consistent with nutritional, education and health outcomes.”
N.C. Saxena, another NAC member, felt that “although the Planning Commission has only quoted NSSO's survey statistics, it could have been more sensitive.”
The affidavit was filed in response to the May 14 court order advising the Commission to update its BPL norms to reflect prices as on May 2011. The court had observed that it was impossible for an individual in an urban area to consume 2,100 calories with Rs. 20 and 2,400 calories with Rs. 15 in rural area, the figures in the Tendulkar report.
The Commission, however, said “final poverty lines following Tendulkar Committee [report] will be available only after completion of the 2011-12 NSS Survey and these will vary from State to State because of price differentials.”