India’s Poverty Line: Changing Perspectives

After a year and a half of work, the 16- member panel headed by Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman has failed to come to any decision on India’s official poverty line. Instead, it has recommended setting up yet another group to do the job (Hindustan Times, September 12, 2016). The last eight years have seen three expert committees set up to define the poverty line. But each effort has been mired in controversy. The magnitude of poverty and its alleviation carries enormous importance in public policy. Understandably, almost every government in India in the past few decades has constituted an expert committee for setting up the poverty line so as to facilitate designing programmes and policies for targeted intervention. Justifiably, there was disquiet in the present government, which came to power with the promise of employment generation, meeting the basic needs of housing sanitation, health and education and ushering in inclusive development, for not making any specific statement on poverty line, trends and targets. The setting up of an expert committee to determine the poverty line, on the recommendation of the Niti Aayog, was in response to this expectation. Poverty at the household level is measured based on information on income, consumption expenditure, socio-economic capabilities, physical assets, housing conditions and access to amenities (Planning Commission (2012a) and Alkire (2011). Until recently, the expert groups have generally relied...

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