India’s opposition politicians accused the government on Tuesday of seeking to conceal widespread poverty after it declared that any Indian who spent 44 cents a day was not poor.
Figures released by the Planning Commission on Monday showed a substantial drop in the country’s poverty figures under the Congress-led government, but the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it was fudging the numbers.
“I don’t know which line they are drawing — whether it is the starvation line or the poverty line,” S.S. Ahluwalia, who is deputy leader of the BJP in the upper house of parliament, told reporters.
“It is beyond the imagination of the prime minister and the Planning Commission to know how a person can survive on such a low income,” he said.
The commission’s estimates differ from state to state depending on the cost of living, but average out at a 22-rupee (44 cent) daily spending threshold for villagers and a 28-rupee level in cities.
The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia told reporters Tuesday that the poverty line was meant to reflect conditions of “absolute poverty” in the country.
“This poverty line is not the line that we think a person can comfortably survive… the poverty line has been identified as a rock-bottom, bare subsistence kind of line,” he said.
India’s poverty line measurements are significantly lower than those used by international organisations like the World Bank, which assesses poverty according to the percentage of people who live on less than $1.25 a day.
The figures from the Planning Commission, an influential government body that formulates national five-year economic plans, suggested overall poverty levels fell from 37.2 percent in 2004-05 to 29.8 percent in 2009-10.
The statistics mean about 360 million Indians now live in poverty, according to the Planning Commission.
The data is used to determine access to welfare benefits for India’s 1.2 billion population. Anyone living below the poverty line is entitled to subsidised food and cooking fuel distributed through state-owned stores.
The Planning Commission’s Ahluwalia said that poverty levels in the country had fallen faster between 2004 and 2009 — marking the first term in office of the Congress coalition government — than in the previous decade.
“You can put whatever poverty line you want, the fact is… the decline in poverty is twice the decline in the previous 11 years,” he said.
Although several states saw their poverty ratios plummet by more than 10 percentage points, a number of states in India’s remote northeast experienced a rise in the proportion of poor.