Poverty all set to get aggravated

BHUBANESWAR, NOV. 18. Even when the wherewithal for eradicating poverty was available and could be used without any direct cost to anyone, not only no steps were being taken to eradicate poverty, but on the contrary poverty in the country was all set to get aggravated in the coming years, according to Mr. Prabhat Patnaik, noted economist who teaches Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Delivering the 1st Harishchandra Baxipatra Memorial Lecture on ``Eradication of Poverty'' here on Saturday evening, Mr. Patnaik said that the country today was in a remarkable position where it can eradicate poverty almost immediately with absolutely no cost to anybody.

There were 60 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India, which was 40 million tonnes of excess stocks, with the buffer stock norm being about 20 million tonnes, he pointed out.

Observing that the FCI has obtained these stocks by using borrowed money and since this debt had already been incurred, distributing these foodgrains to the poor would require no additional taxation on anybody or would not even lead to any further debt, he said that it would need only a perpetration of the existing debt but no increase in the Government's net debt burden.

Mr. Patnaik said that the stocks should not be simply distributed among the poor but handed over to them through employment generation programmes that create capital assets in the countryside. An asset held in one form being converted into another requires no additional taxation on anybody, so that the rich would have no cause to complain, he observed.

He went on to say that the government had announced some measures in this direction in the Independence Day address of the Prime Minister. But these were minuscule: the sum total of foodgrain stocks that would be used through these measures, including even the promised assistance to the Afghan people, would come to not more than 7 millions tonnes, out of the 40 million tonnes of surplus foodgrains stocks, he said.

Pointing out that the non-declining rural poverty ratio in the 1990s, despite apparently high GDP growth, had to do with the nature of that growth and the structural-cum- technological change accompanying it, Mr. Patnaik said that a very important constituent of this change was the decline in the importance of public investment and more generally of public expenditure in rural India.

With the fiscal policy hamstrung by the need to preserve speculator's ``confidence'', the government expenditure was likely to witness further cuts, thereby aggravating rural poverty further, Mr. Patnaik opined. This was the consequence of the undermining of the autonomy of the State, which is the price extracted by the process of ``liberalisation'', he said. The lecture was organised by the Harishchandra Baxipatra Smruti Samiti, an organisation formed in memory of Harishchandra Baxipatra, a veteran trade unionist and former Minister who died in October last year. The lecture was part of the function organised to mark Mr. Baxipatra's 68th birth anniversary.

Two persons - Mohammed Bazi, an octogenarian social activist from Orissa's Nawrangpur district, and Sampad Mahapatra, NDTV Correspondent of in Orissa - were presented with the Harishchandra Baxipatra Memorial Award-2001 in recognition of their achievements in their respective fields.

Among others who attended the function include the Union Steel Minister, Mr. Brajakrishore Tripathy, the former Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr. Rabi Ray, and the Acting Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court, Mr. Justice R.K. Patra.

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