The decline in poverty has not been as fast as one would have wished and it remains a major challenge before the country because the poor are still too poor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday.

Inaugurating the 92nd conference of the Indian Economic Association (IEA) at KIIT University here, Dr. Singh said much more needed to be done to improve the living standards of the poor.

The Prime Minister, however, claimed that the percentage of the population below the poverty line had certainly not increased after the opening up of the economy.

“In fact, it has continued to decline after the economic reforms at least at the same rate as it did before. It is true that the rate of decline has not been faster and I personally feel it should be. But that it has declined, there is no doubt.”

Raising poverty line

On the argument by some economists that the poverty line itself should be raised, Dr. Singh said if this was done the percentage of the population in poverty would obviously be higher. “But this does not mean that the percentage below the poverty line is not declining. If we apply a new poverty line to the past data, it will show the same decline in poverty.”

He emphasised that all discussions on trends in poverty were based on the NSS survey data, the latest of which was available for 2004-05. The next large sample estimate for 2009-10 was likely to be available in a year from now. “Since the period of rapid growth of the economy was largely after 2004-05, we will have to wait for a year or two to know its impact on poverty,” he said.

Dr. Singh said there was no evidence that the new economic policies had had an adverse effect on the poor. The economy had to grow fast enough to create new job opportunities at a rate faster than the growth of the labour force. “To achieve our objective of inclusive growth, we need to pay much greater attention to education, health care, and rural development, focusing on the needs of the poor — the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and religious minorities.” He urged the IEA to respond to these challenges.

Issues arising out of climate change posed new challenges, Dr. Singh said. An optimal solution to this challenge was possible only if the world could find ways to reach a mutually satisfactory solution.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and IEA president C.H. Hanumantha Rao also spoke.

Dr. Singh, who was on a brief visit, also laid the foundation for a new campus of the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER) at Jatni, a few km from the city.

More In: National | News