‘Panel does not intend to limit benefits to those below poverty line'

Though the methodology for determining the poor would be based on the socio-economic caste census being undertaken by the Rural Development Ministry, the (Suresh) Tendulkar poverty line would remain a relevant reference point “to see how development is helping to take more and more individuals above a fixed line over time and across States,” Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told a news conference here on Monday.

As per the Tendulkar Committee report, the percentage of the population below the poverty line in 2004-05 was 37.2 per cent. The percentage of poor in rural areas was estimated at 41.8 per cent and 25.7 per cent in urban areas.

Denying the allegation that the panel intended to limit the benefits to those below the poverty line, , Mr. Ahluwahlia said the panel had accepted the Tendulkar Committee recommendation that increased the percentage of the poor in 2004-05 from 27.5 per cent of the total population to 37.2 per cent.

In response to the Supreme Court's direction in the matter relating to the Department of Food and Civil Supplies, wherein the court asked the panel to revise the norms of per capita amount with reference to the price index of May 2011, the poverty line was set at Rs.4,824 per month for a family of five in urban areas and Rs.3,905 per month in rural areas.

Asked about the panel's validation for this spending on food as well as health and education, Mr. Ahluwalia said: “Health and education should be provided free and if it is not, then obviously it leads to the poor being under stress. The solution to this is correction of service failure under the RTI and the Rural Health Mission. In the 12{+t}{+h} Plan we are trying to address this.”

Emphasising that the Tendulkar poverty line was not meant to be an acceptable level of living for the “aam admi,” Mr. Ahluwalia said that as the level was “low” families slightly above the poverty line were also vulnerable. “It is certainly not the view of the Planning Commission that subsidised food should be limited to those below the poverty line. Many benefits under various schemes are not linked to the poverty line.”

Faced with hue and cry over the issue, the panel now supports the idea that entitlements for the poor should go beyond the poverty line benchmark and de-linked from the poverty line.

“We are now clearly, categorically and unequivocally saying there is no link between State-wise poverty estimates done by the Planning Commission and the selection of [welfare] beneficiaries,” Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh told the same news conference.

The matter will next be heard in the Supreme Court on October 11.

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