Disadvantaged people could be 34 million or 373 million depending on the reference study. Although there were several improvements, it is not possible to analyze the poverty rate since there is no updated data from the national census, which was officially postponed due to the pandemic. According to experts, the goal of assistance programs should be to redistribute accumulated wealth.
Milan () – Last week, the United Nations (UN) highlighted the positive results achieved by India in the last 15 years in terms of poverty reduction: according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) at the University of Oxford, 415 million Indians were lifted out of poverty between 2005-2006 and 2019-2021.
It is worth mentioning that the two institutes took as data the multidimensional poverty index -which is not based only on income level but seeks to measure the incidence of poverty in various areas of life. The fundamental unit of analysis is the family, which is assigned a “deprivation score” based on the weighting of each of the indicators -education level, access to health services, malnutrition rate and others. According to the reportpoverty fell from 47.1% in 2015-16 to 44.4% in 2019-21.
If the malnutrition rate is taken into account, the percentage of disadvantaged people went from 44.3% in 2005-2006 to 11.8% in 2019-2021. Infant mortality fell from 4.5% to 1.5%. People who do not have fuel for cooking fell from 52.9% to 13.9%, those who do not have access to toilets decreased, from 50.4% to 11.3%. There are also fewer Indians without access to drinking water: they fell from 16.4% to 2.7%. And those who do not have access to electricity and a home went from 29% and 44.9% to 2.1% and 13.6%, respectively.
With respect to these statistics, a few observations can be made: First, despite the percentage reductions, in absolute terms a large part of the Indian population remains poor in a “multidimensional” way. Suffice it to consider that 10% of the total Indian population -estimated at 1,500 million- is 150 million people. The same organization affirms that there are more than one billion people in the world who remain poor in various aspects and the vast majority of whom are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – a region of which India is a part.
There are five different estimates for the number of poor in India, ranging from 34 million to 373 million (between 2.5% and 29.5%, if we use percentages). A fundamental problem is the lack of data at the national level, of which the most significant are collected during the census Nationwide, every 10 years. However, the most recent data dates back to 2011, and this is because the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to postpone the 2021 census due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government distributes subsidies based on data referring to disadvantaged people. It is therefore worth asking why the government continues postponing the census if -according to the data presented so far- the reduction of poverty would lead to savings in spending by providing aid to the population.
The threshold used to determine poverty status in India was also last updated in 2011 and corresponds to an income of less than 1,000 rupees per month (less than 11 euros) in metropolitan areas and 816 rupees (less than 9 euros ) in rural areas. Under Indian law, these people are entitled to subsidized food rations and soft loans to buy homes.
Madhura Swaminathan, a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta, criticized at the time the choice of such a low threshold, since it prevents a healthy diet, and access to education and health services is almost impossible. This was demonstrated by research last year, according to which even those living above the poverty line established by Delhi cannot afford access to basic services. Using the “classic” value of poverty, which is below an income of 1.9 dollars a day, the experts verified that only 2.5% of the population today lives below that limit, thanks to the great improvements since 2014, the year the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power.
However, the same researchers suggested raising the threshold to $3.2 per day for a more accurate calculation of the poverty level. Based on this updated figure, disadvantaged Indians would represent more than 26% of the population. Other studies, using consumption data, show that despite an overall reduction in poverty between 2011 and 2022, the number of poor people increased during the pandemic period. Others point out that the eradication of poverty can be achieved through an equitable distribution of wealth, “since 87% of poverty reduction is due to economic growth. People who are not directly participating in the growth process need help through poverty reduction programmes,” said Amaresh Dubey, an economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi. And this brings us back to the starting point: the ministries cannot update the list of beneficiaries of anti-poverty programs without official data from the new census.