The National Sample Survey Organisation’s newest set of consumption expenditure data for 2011-12 gives an insight into how those across the spectrum, from the poorest to the richest, live in different parts of India.
For one it’s clear that we are not talking about a rich country. An individual who spends over Rs. 2,886 per month in a rural area or Rs. 6,383 per month in an urban area is in the top 5% of the country (and this is using the modified mixed reference period, which gives the most generous expenditure estimates). This translates to spending Rs. 96.2 and Rs. 212.77 per day. The top 10% of the country includes anyone who spends over Rs. 2296 per month in a rural area and Rs. 4610 per month in an urban area.
Moreover, even though poverty rates are converging, massive inter-State differences remain. A person spending over Rs. 1995 per head would be well into the top 5% of rural Bihar, but more than half of Kerala is spending at that level. Similarly, spending Rs. 1710 per month would put a person in rural Jharkhand into the top 5% of her State, but over 60% of Punjab is spending at that level.
In urban India, spending Rs. 3400 per month in urban Bihar would put a person into the top 5% of that State, but only the top 30% of Delhi. Conversely, 30% of urban Chhattisgarh lives on a monthly per capita expenditure of Rs. 1046, while less than 5% of Kerala lives at that level of expenditure.
Then there is the question of what the rich and poor are spending their money on; absolute spending on food rises as one climbs the income ladder in both rural and urban India, even as its proportion in total expenditure falls.