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Poverty in India

October 18, 2011

India's Planning Commission believes that 25 rupees, or half a US dollar, is enough for daily expenses in India's villages. In cities, 32 rupees should suffice. The recommendations have triggered a debate.

Indian activists are angry at the ridiculously low numbers the government is projecting
Indian activists are angry about the poverty lineImage: AP

A gift of money as a form of protest: The citizens of Aurangabad have transferred exactly 32 rupees to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, chief of the ruling Congress Party. "They should also try and live off that kind of money in a day," says a man, explaining the symbolic significance of the gesture. He lives in Aurangabad in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India.

32 rupees or less than half a euro a day is simply not enough for anyone to survive on in India. However, the Government's Planning Commission has announced that this amount is sufficient to cover the costs for food, education and health in big Indian cities. In villages, 25 rupees are considered adequate. These definitions of the poverty line are way below thos recognized internationally. The World Bank says people suffer from extreme poverty below one dollar and 25 cents a day or about 90 cents in the euro currency. "Our family needs 300 to 400 rupees a day for food and other things," says a mother of three who lives in a slum in Bangalore.

Half of India's children suffer from malnutrition
50 percent of children in India suffer from malnutritionImage: AP

The new poverty line definitions stipulated by the government come at a time when rental costs and the prices of basic commodities have shot up. India’s rate of inflation is at around 10 percent. That is why there are differences of opinion within the government itself. Some ministers have called on the Planning Commission to develop new ways of measuring poverty. The differences of opinion about defining the poverty line are however deadly serious.

No rights, no certificates, no benefits

Civil rights activist Colin Gonsalves fears that anyone who has 32 rupees a day will not be considered below the poverty line (BPL) and will also not receive a BPL-certificate to that effect. This person, adds Gonsalves, will be entitled neither to free treatment in any government hospital, nor be able to receive any of the social benefits for the underprivileged.

If the government accepts the recommendations, many Indians will, for example, lose their rights to cheaper essential commodities and subsidized cooking gas. According to the World Bank, nearly 42 percent of Indians in one of the world’s fastest growing economies live in extreme poverty. That means about 500 million people. More than half of all children in India up to five years of age suffer from malnutrition.

Poverty is a vicious cycle
Poverty is a vicious cycleImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Poverty takes a backseat

Two years ago, a commission appointed by the Indian Government came to the conclusion that 400 million Indians live below the poverty line, about one third of India’s population. With the new definition, fewer Indians will be classified as poor thus reducing the burden on government finances. Activist Gonsalves also believes that Singh’s government wants to improve its international image by tweaking the poverty statistics. He says the government wants to demonstrate to the international community that poverty has been reduced to 35 percent due to globalization."

Unsurprisingly the Planning Commission has now justified its recommendations by claiming great progress in eradicating poverty. The World Bank, on the other hand, declared in May this year that the fight against poverty in India was being impeded by chronic corruption, mismanagement and an inefficient bureaucracy.

Author: Sabina Matthay / mg
Editor: Grahame Lucas