Lord Meghnad Desai said Abolishing poverty is a never ending quest
Lord Meghnad Desai, eminent India-born British economist, author and Labour Party politician, said it is ideal to focus on the core problems ofpoverty and try to remove them.
“Abolishing poverty is a never ending quest. Poverty Line (PL) is not a single straight line, but wobbles up and down depending on income and consumption. The concept of poverty also changes with economic growth. Whatever we do, it cannot be abolished,” Desai said.
He was speaking at Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) foundation lecture organised here on ‘Can poverty be ever abolished?’
Desai added that even developed countries have failed to abolish poverty entirely. Around 15 per cent of population in the US is poor. If we see Hispanic and black communities there, the incidence of poverty will be in the higher range of 20 per cent, he noted.
The economist, who is also a member of the governing board of Nalanda University (NU), said poverty is not just about food and clothes, but also includes, education, leisure activities, health and deprivation from technical advancements.
“The problem with uniform, single poverty line is that it is very convenient, but the fact is that it cannot be so as consumption patterns fluctuate according to income, inflation and community. The number of people keeps going above and below it.
Desai said there have been many debates on how to define poverty and India’s poverty numbers have been based on a calorific standard, later augmented by Suresh Tendulkar, which indicates that 21.9 per cent of population here is below poverty line.
“However, the estimates of India’s poverty can range from 21.9 per cent to 80 – 90 per cent depending on whether we take World Bank or Arjun Sengupta’s recommendations as the measuring rod,” added Desai.
Desai said we need to concentrate on the core problems of poverty and try to remove them. We should stop calorie-based poverty concept and develop community-based standards of poverty by interacting with people, he added.
Desai advocated the need to look backward to see whether what was considered poverty 40 or 50 years ago has been abolished, and the necessity to inculcate a forward looking approach of aiming high to tackle poverty because “society needs a sense of achievement, as well as, aspiration”.
Speaking on the occasion, senior JD (U) leader and former Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar congratulated Desai on the launch of NU and thanked him for his efforts and time given to it, but countered his approach on poverty. He also advocated an Independent Commission to identify the poor.
“A bare minimum need of food, cloth, housing, education and health that cannot be done away with should be considered while measuring and targeting poverty. That this much minimum need will be provided to everybody should be ensured. A dignified living should be ensured,” said Kumar.
“The central government considers 65 lakh families in the state as BPL for its targeted Public Distribution System (PDS) programme. But we calculated it on the basis of 13 points and found that there were 1.4 crore BPL families in the state,” Kumar said.
Kumar also added that calculation according to monetary terms will also lead to variations between Mumbai, Patna, as well as, rural areas, but it changes as aspirations of people rise.
“We need to have an independent Commission if we want to eradicate poverty. Otherwise blame game on the number of poor left out of BPL will continue between state, Centre, parties and the governments,” Kumar added.
The former Bihar CM, who resigned from his post in May this year to guide his party, said the paradox is that with economic growth, the incidence of poverty is also rising.
Blaming regional disparity for Bihar’s backwardness, Kumar said we become influenced by the information that much investment is coming and forget where it is actually coming. There is regional disparity in the country and Bihar is its victim, he added.
“Regional disparity should be removed. ‘Development islands’ are coming up in India and it is being celebrated. We should instead think why even after so many years there is so much regional disparity in the country,” Kumar added.
Kumar also informed that the state government is ready with and endowment of 100 acres of land for Nalanda University. The land has been marked and acquired.
The former Bihar CM pointed out that identification of the poor or persons Below Poverty Line (BPL) is a big problem due to regional and societal variations.