What is the incidence of poverty in India?

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There has been a sharp decline in poverty over the last five years with the percentage of population Below Poverty Line (BPL) declining to 26.1 percent in 1999-2000 from 35.97 percent in 1993-94. According to the latest estimates of the planning commission, while the percentage of rural BPL population has dropped to 27.09 percent from 37.27, in urban India, it fell to 23.62 percent from 32.36 percent during the five year period. In absolute term too, the BPL population has dropped by over 19 percent, to 26.3 crore in 1999-2000, from 32.04 crore in 1993- 94.

The rural poor stands at 19.32 crore (as against 24.4 crore) while the urban poor stands at 6.71 crore. At the state level, although the percentage of BPL population in Orissa has declined to 47.15 percent from 48.56 percent, it has overtaken Bihar to reach the top slot with the highest incidence of poverty. The other big states with high incidence of poverty were Madhya Pradesh at 37.43 percent (as against 43.52 percent), Assam 40.86 percent (36.09 percent), Uttar Pradesh 31.15 percent (40.85 percent) and West Bengal 27.02 percent (35.66 percent).

However, the planning commission has cautioned that the poverty ratios over the two time period (1993-94 and 1999-2000) are not strictly comparable. The survey methodology has undergone changes over the two surveys in 1993- 94 and 1999-2000. Before feeling too good about the drop in BPL, it would be as well to remember that 26 crore (the Indian BPL) is a very large number.

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There are two basic pre-requisiters of a poverty eradication programme. Firstly, reorientation of the agricultural relations so that the ownership of land is shared by a larger section of the population. Secondly, no programme of removal of poverty can succeed in an economy plagued by inflation and spiralling rise of price. A poverty eradication programme, therefore, must mop up the surplus with the elite classes. These two pre-requisites require a strong political will in the national leadership to implement the much needed structural reforms.

Besides, the government must aim at a strategy for the development of the social sector of which the key component should be population control, universal primary education, family welfare and job creation especially in rural areas. These and the other aspects of poverty alleviation have not been given any importance so far in our planning though we have always thought that poverty can be removed through economic development.

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