Objecting to the Planning Commission's poverty estimates and worried about the outcome of a case pending before the Supreme Court, the UPA government on Thursday underlined the need for reworking the BPL (Below the Poverty Line) cap in a bid to do away with any kind of cap, which has become a matter of controversy.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh shot off an eight page e-mail letter to the Deputy Chairman of the Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, saying reliance on its poverty estimates to arrive at a cut-off would not end the confusion over who was included or not included.
Mr. Ramesh said it was easy for the Commission to set the caps but “getting exact matches of the kind that it has ordered is nearly impossible.” The use of external poverty estimates as caps was not only impossible and undesirable but also wrong theoretically and empirically.
Mr. Ahluwalia wrote back, agreeing there was utter confusion over the issue and assured Mr. Ramesh that he would discuss the issue with him after his return from the U.S. on Friday.
Mr. Ahluwalia clarified that there was no necessary connection between the fixed poverty line and the eligibility for subsidised food. In any case, under the Food Security Bill eligibility is based on the priority category and not the BPL list, the survey for which is likely to be completed by December-end.
Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu that he would propose three options to Mr. Ahluwalia for a more realistic approach to the cap issue. He parried questions whether the government would intervene in the case before the court or whether the Commission would file a revised affidavit.
One of the options is to retain the exclusion criteria adopted for conducting the Socio-Economic and Caste Census and exclude the top quintile of the rural population from the BPL list and bring all others under it so that no poor household is excluded.
Mr. Ramesh regarded this as, politically, the best option and said it would render the court case on caps infructuous. Describing as unfounded the claim of fiscal burden it might entail, Mr. Ramesh argued that since the beneficiaries would be chosen based on whatever deprivations they had, it was immune to the cut-off, whatever it was.
Of course, Mr. Ramesh dismisses the current plan, which is the third option, saying it is almost impossible to convey politically the reason for arbitrary exclusion of those who meet various deprivation counts though it best suits administrative convenience and fiscal considerations.
The mid-way is to have the exclusion and inclusion criteria and apply the cut-off poverty estimates as suggested by the Commission but with the modification that there would be no need to differentiate among those with the same deprivation points which might push up the poverty cap.
Mr. Ramesh admitted that it was more complicated than the first option, which allowed inclusion of all those not coming under the exclusion criteria.