Statement issued by leading economists on the recent debate over Planning Commission's poverty estimates.
We the undersigned economists do not consider the official national poverty lines set by the Planning Commission, at Rs. 32 and Rs. 26 per capita per day for urban and rural areas respectively, to be acceptable benchmarks to measure the extent of poverty in India. In any case, irrespective of the methodology we adopt to measure poverty, the number of poor and hungry people in the country remains unacceptably large.
While academic debates can continue on the appropriate measure of poverty in India, its extent and whether it is decreasing over time, we strongly believe that it is unacceptable and counterproductive to link the official poverty estimates to basic entitlements of the people, especially access to food. Official surveys of nutritional intakes and outcomes indicate that undernutrition is much more widespread than income poverty, however defined. It is also widely recognised that the targeted Public Distribution System introduced since 1997 has done more harm than good by creating divisions even among the poor and has led to massive errors of exclusion. Recent evidence clearly establishes that States which have moved towards near universalisation of the PDS have performed much better in increasing offtake and reducing leakages.
Restoring the universal PDS appears to us as the best way forward in combating hunger and poverty. This is not only feasible within the available fiscal space of the Union government but must be a policy priority in the backdrop of high and persistent food price inflation.
1.Ashok Mitra, former Finance Minister, Government of West Bengal
2.Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Director, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata
3.S. K. Thorat, Chairman, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi and former UGC Chairman
4.Prabhat Patnaik, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and former Vice Chairman, Kerala State Planning Board
5.Atul Sarma, Member, Finance Commission and former Vice Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar
6.G.S. Bhalla, Emeritus Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and former Member, Planning Commission
7.Yoginder K. Alagh, former Minister of Power, Planning, Science and Technology, Government of India and Chairman of 1977 Task Force on Poverty Estimation
8.S. Subramanian, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai
9.Pulin Nayak, Professor, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi
10.Ravi Srivastava, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Member, NCEUS
11.S. Mahendra Dev, Director, Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai
12.Sheila Bhalla, Professor, Institute for Human Development, New Delhi
13.R. S. Deshpande, Director, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru
14.C. P. Chandrasekhar, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
15.Madhura Swaminathan, Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata