It may re-visit the issue and amend its affidavit filed in Supreme Court

Faced with strong reactions to its affidavit on the poverty line estimates filed in the Supreme Court on Monday, the Planning Commission may re-visit the issue and, if necessary, file an amendment in the court.

Sources in the Commission indicated that another committee of experts was likely to be set up to dispel the “confusion” and arrive at a more realistic estimate of poverty numbers that were “multi-dimensional” and to take into account the per capita expenditure on food, healthcare, education, clothing, housing and transport. “There is a clear view — there is confusion,” the sources said.

Threatening a nationwide agitation, the National Federation of Indian Women on Friday demanded the immediate withdrawal of the affidavit. “Targeting beneficiaries and putting caps on the number of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families lead to irregularities and corruption,” it said.

In the affidavit, the Planning Commission upheld the Suresh Tendulkar Committee's findings that an individual spending less than Rs. 31 in urban areas and Rs. 26 a day in rural areas was poor. There are apprehensions that whatever be the Commission's stand in court will become a policy.

Not only have some Commission members expressed disappointment at the affidavit, especially when the court itself had suggested that the government re-visit the issue, it now appears that Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Planning Ashwini Kumar is also “not satisfied with the manner in which the affidavit was structured.”

Mr. Kumar questioned the Commission's proposed stand as far back as in April as there was an element of confusion in the files. The cap on the identification of the poor could result, or has resulted, in the exclusion of genuine beneficiaries from the BPL list, he felt.

He again raised the issue with Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia in early September and sought a road map so that there would be no arbitrariness in capping the BPL population as it was done in various States.

The capping of poor households who qualify for BPL cards for availing themselves of subsidised food grains by the Planning Commission has forced the States to identify only as many poor households as “permitted,” leading to arbitrariness in the selection, and the exclusion of several. The underlying issue has been the government's desire to project a reduction in poverty line.

Mr. Kumar said: “No methodology to identify the poor is cast in stone. We need to be sensitive to the realities of life today and the rising aspiration of people. Therefore, we do need to re-visit the basis of poverty estimates, as well as the methodology adopted for identification of the BPL population, which is not incongruous with the ground realities in different States. There is need to arrive at a definition which is simple and which addresses different dimensions of poverty in real life.”

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