India’s economic boom in the first decade of the 21 Century coincided with an increase in the magnitude of poverty, economist Prabhat Patnaik said here on Saturday.
“There has been a period of positive growth as far as the GDP is concerned. But during this period , there has been an increase in magnitude of absolute poverty,” he said. “While the Planning Commission insists that proportion of population below the poverty line has gone down, that is not the case by its own definition of urban and rural poverty.”
He was delivering the keynote address at the convention on “Strengthening public health - medical system for the people” organised by the Tamil Nadu Health Development Association.
Citing the Planning Commission’s definition of poverty - people getting less than 2,100 calories per day in urban areas and those getting below 2,200 calories per day in rural areas - as the yardstick, Mr. Patnaik said the percentage points had in fact increased in the period of “high growth rate”.
The section with access to less than 2,100 calories was 60 per cent of the urban poor in 1973-74. It was 58.5 per cent in 1983-84, 57 in 1993-94, but in 2004-05, it went up to 64 per cent. And according to the latest National Sample Survey in 2009-10, it was as high as 73 per cent.
Likewise the percentage of rural people below the poverty line, which was 56 per cent in 1973-74, went up to 56 per cent in 1983-84, 58.5 per cent in 1993-94, and 69.5 per cent in 2004-05. By 2009-10, it went up to 76 per cent.
He said the annual per capita food consumption by Indians stood at close to 160 kg per person, only marginally up from 140 kg per person at the turn of independence in 1947 and even lower from the 200 kg per person at the stroke of the 20th century. Usually, big economic growth in the West coincided with people having access to more food grains than before.
The annual per capita consumption of food grains, including direct and indirect (food processing), in the US is currently around 900 kg.
Mr. Patnaik said neo-liberal policies, apart from aiding corporates at the cost of the peasantry and petty producers of the country, was giving rise to the growth of what Karl Marx termed lumpenproletariat - a class of workers that is not politically active and is away from the mainstream and is exploited by fascist forces.
Any alternative economic strategy for the country to reform the current scenario must take into account the welfare of the peasantry and the petty producers.
A resolution was adopted at the meeting calling for an increase in the Union budget allocation for public health. Against the 12th Plan projection of 1.58 per cent of GDP towards health, the convention called for allocation of five per cent of the GDP.
Even the common minimum programme of the UPA had promised three per cent of the GDP for health, it pointed out.