Balancing Act on the Poverty Line

Sitting in an air-conditioned chamber at the South Block in Delhi, they formulate the so called ‘Poverty line’ to define the meaning of poor, being oblivious to the ground realities. They set the poverty line at 27.2 Indian Rupees for the rural areas while for the urban areas they decide it to be Rs 33. I personally think that while coming up with such figures, the ‘honourable’ members of the Parliament are guided by the rates in the canteen in the premises of the Parliament, where they get a dosa for Rs 4 and a non-veg thali for Rs 22.But alas! the hungry and poor India does not have access to the Parliament canteen.
A few months back, the newspaper talked about some Senators in the United States, who decided to spend a month living on an income equal to the poverty line. I wonder why can’t our policy makers try the same for at least a week, if not for a month. I believe that if some of our netas try to live within the poverty line for a week, they won’t be fit enough for the next session of the Parliament. But according to them, our teeming millions of hungry brothers and sisters are so good at management that they can manage to buy and consume food that is sufficiently high in nutrition, providing at least 2100 calories, as suggested by our policy makers, and all these within a sum of Rs 33.If that was true, the Multi National Companies would flock to the poorest localities of India instead of visiting the campuses of IIMs. But alas! it is not so. They suffer, strive, weep and beg to keep their body and soul together.
The US senators striving to survive like a poor American was a human touch to the problem. They succeeded to live off that paltry sum. So they have ‘some’’ right to say that people can survive within that amount. I said that they had ‘some’ right and not every right to defend the poverty line because they lived like that only for a month .When people, especially children live within that budget for years at a stretch ,they are bound to be affected by malnutrition.
India is a diverse land. We are proud to believe in ‘Unity in Diversity’. But is it necessary that we exhibit this Unity while deciding the poverty line too? I highly doubt it. It is so because across the vast expanse of our motherland, we find different varieties of people with different dietary   habits; we find different varieties of land which support different crops, each having a different amount of nutritive material in them and above all each costing differently at different places. You have a 10 rupee note in your pocket – you can satiate yourself with a vada paawwith that if you are in Mumbai but come to Delhi, you are nowhere with a 10 Rupee note.
The policy makers fail to think that if a large number of people are unable to fill up their belly to the full, and consequently miss some important constituents of a balanced diet – day after day- for years, they will be gripped by a number of diseases and will require treatment in hospitals which will again be a cost for the government. If a large number of people suffer from illnesses, the health insurance schemes brought in by the government are going to be causing a lot of money to the exchequer. So, this is not at all economically viable in the long run. A student who is under-fed cannot concentrate in his class. So we are jeopardizing our future too by making such flawed policies.
The fundamental concept of a poverty line is void. Poverty is a qualitative term. Though we can measure it relatively, we can never quantify it terms of a well-defined poverty line. The implications of defining a poverty line are hazardous. It traps the people in a nexus, because most of the welfare schemes are directed to target groups on the basis of poverty line. Let us consider a family which is at present below the poverty line. The family members toil hard to earn some money. Their hard work coupled with the benefits of the numerous welfare schemes of the Government, may push this family above the poverty line in a few years. But as soon as this happens, most of the support provided by the Government is withdrawn. So the family may again fall into the poverty line and this will go on. It would be logical to have more than one poverty lines, thus diving the people into bands like the destitute, the lower middle class, the upper middle class and the rich-so that those who work hard to achieve some financial stability are not stripped of all the benefits in a single go, rather the benefits are withdrawn slowly while giving the people some time to cope with it. This was just a suggestion from my side- from a common man. I am sure that the wise economists sitting in the Capital can make some better suggestions.
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