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Thursday, October 13, 2011

BPL – Where to draw the Line ?

R.D. Bhardwaj "Noorpuri"

R.D. Bhardwaj "Noorpuri"
receiving award

According to the statics stated by the Central Government a few days ago, around 40 % of India’s population lives below poverty line (BPL) who find it very difficult to manage food twice a day for all members of their families. Firstly, it is really shameful that even after 64 years of independence, people are living below poverty line such people are increasing instead of showing any signs of decreasing. The reasons are many, such as – lack of employment opportunities for the masses, particularly for the people living in rural areas, lack of basic amenities for majority of the people, such as roads, clean drinking water, electricity, sanitation, health care services, schools to provide education to children at affordable cost, hospitals etc. and above all, and perhaps most importantly, lack of all pervasive political will of our leaders across the country to provide welfare measures and schemes for all sections of society, particularly for those belonging to the rural areas.

The conditions of life for the common man have come to such a state that the poor are not able to get meals even twice a day, despite the fact that production of food grains items such as wheat, rice, pulses, and sugarcane, etc. are sufficiently adequate to cater to the requirements of all. Reports coming through the print and the electronic media even say that the FCI godowns, stores and warehouses etc. are full to their capacities and even at many places, these food grains are lying in the open, without proper upkeep and maintenance and are left to being rotting up. Even the Supreme Court had to give directions to the government to distribute these food grains to the poor and needy free of cost, as some poor people are dying due to malnutrition in some states like Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal etc., but our leaders are unmoved to the plight and sufferings of the poor. Farmers in some states like Maharashtra, U.P. and Bihar are forced to commit suicide as they were being constantly harassed by the banks and money lenders to repay their loans, but the poor financial positions of farmers did not allow them to meet their repayment commitments.

No doubt, the Central Govt. and the State Govts. also formulate some schemes for the welfare of the poor, such as providing them wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene oil; at the subsidized rates, but still there are lakhs of families across the country who cannot manage to buy many other essential commodities, because they do not have regular source of income. No doubt, the Govt. also provides wheat, rice, kerosene oil and sugar etc. to the people living below poverty line, but the inflation is very high and food inflation still higher and hovering around 10% plus these days. That is why the poorer strata of society cannot buy or buy in sufficient quantity essential items like vegetable, cooking oil and many other ingredients required in the kitchen.

A few days ago, some officials of the Planning Commission submitted an affidavit in Supreme Court defining as to who is poor and is thus, entitles to get benefits given by the government to the BPL people. Accordingly to this affidavit, a person or family who spends Rs. 32/- in urban areas and Rs. 26/- in rural areas daily, is poor and others spending over and above these amounts - is not poor, and hence, not entitled to get various kinds of government subsidies. This claim of the government has been widely criticized keeping in view the high rising inflation, terming it that the government has made a mockery of the poor people. Some have even gone to extent of describing that only dogs can survive on these amounts and not the human beings, as those who have arrived at these figures are either totally oblivious of the market realities or they are not willing to provide to the BPL families their due benefits.

After receiving such a wide spread criticism over this definition of poverty line, the Planning Commission along with a Central Minister have given a new definition of poverty line by giving six parameters to decide this issue. It is really again surprising to note that these six new parameters have further made the whole issue confusing and complicating, as no amount of income per month has been given to define BPL conditions. Now the question arises – how one should arrive at this poverty line amount so as to enable the Govt. to segregate such families and to provide the required benefits to the poor and needy, and to save them from slipping into malnutrition and then impending other serious consequences.

I think that, as with the passage of time the value of rupee has gone down considerably, particularly after the last general elections of May 2009, its purchasing power has taken a nose-dive; and thus, a human being needs at least Rs. 100 a day to survive. And that means a family of four persons need at least Rs. 12,000/- (100*30*4) a month just to afford three meals day in villages. Realistically speaking, things are at least 20 to 25 % costlier in urban areas and that means a family of four people needs at least Rs. 14,400/- (120*30*4) to manage their food requirements. We are not touching upon the money required by them to provide them medical facilities in case they fall ill, children’s education and construction of a small house for them. Thus, in simple terms, it can be said that a family of four people needs at least Rs. 12,000/- in rural areas and Rs. 14,400/- in urban areas to survive and manage their bare minimum requirements of life. Any family having monthly income upto these levels should be considered to be living below poverty line and hence, they require various kinds of benefits and facilities from the government agencies on subsidized rates. And other families having income over and above these amounts may be treated as living above poverty line.

Not only that, it should also be kept in mind that inflation is an ever rising phenomena and hence, after fixing these amounts as the basic measures for the current year, these should be better fixed to inflation and should be revised in the first or second week of April every year, so as to arrive at the new bench marks of poverty line for that year and to provide due benefits to the people living BPL. Compromising on these bench marks and not honestly carrying out this exercise shall amount to imparting injustice to the poor and the needy.

It is also very pertinent to mention here that during the last ten years, a number of scams have taken place like – Stock Market Scam, Group Housing Society scam of Dwarka, New Delhi, Stamp Paper Scam, Adarsh Housing Society at Mumbai, CWG-2010 scam, 2G Spectrum, Illegal Mining Scam in Karnataka and lastly illegal Telephone Exchange Scam relating to a TV Channel in south etc. And all these scams have been manoeuvered by either by big political leaders or big and influential bureaucrats engulfing roughly Rs. 2.50 lakh crores of tax payers’ money. It is also ironical to point out here that while some of the culprits have been caught and put behind the bars, but precious little efforts have been made to retrieve the huge public wealth. Apart from these scams, around Rs. 1,486 lakh crores of black money is lying stashed in foreign banks. While all these scams and financial irregularities are being committed right under the nose of the government, but government is very much sceptic to enhance the upper limits of BPL category, so that the poorer strata of our society could derive some benefit out of those welfare schemes of the government and improve their lives.

It is a million dollar question that in case India wants to make all round development and progress and tread on the glorious paths in the field of latest science and technology etc. comparable with other developed nations around the globe such as USA, UK, German, France, Canada and Australia etc., then Indian can also have that privilege, but only by taking along with it the poorer and weaker sections of society and that is possible only by providing them the much desired and required benefits and other related facilities. As, nobody know who and how many amongst them may shine and make India proud in these fields. After all, India is a big country and possibilities are also plenty.

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