Plea to delink food entitlements from faulty poverty measures
Sep 27, 2011
We the undersigned economists do not consider the official national poverty lines set by the Planning Commission, at Rs. 32 and Rs. 26 per capita per day for urban and rural areas respectively, to be acceptable benchmarks to measure the extent of poverty in India. In any case, irrespective of the methodology we adopt to measure poverty, the number of poor and hungry people in the country remains unacceptably large.

While academic debates can continue on the appropriate measure of poverty in India, its extent and whether it is decreasing over time, we strongly believe that it is unacceptable and counterproductive to link the official poverty estimates to basic entitlements of the people, especially access to food. Official surveys of nutritional intakes and outcomes indicate that undernutrition is much more widespread than income poverty, however defined. It is also widely recognised that the targeted Public Distribution System introduced since 1997 has done more harm than good by creating divisions even among the poor and has led to massive errors of exclusion. Recent evidence clearly establishes that States which have moved towards near universalisation of the PDS have performed much better in increasing offtake and reducing leakages.

Restoring the universal PDS appears to us as the best way forward in combating hunger and poverty. This is not only feasible within the available fiscal space of the Union government but must be a policy priority in the backdrop of high and persistent food price inflation.

  1. Ashok Mitra, Former Finance Minister, Government of West Bengal.
  2. Thomas Isaac, Former Finance Minister, Government of Kerala.
  3. Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Director, Institute for Development Studies, Kolkata.
  4. S. K. Thorat, Chairman, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi and former Vice Chairman UGC.
  5. Prabhat Patnaik, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and former Vice Chairman Kerala State Planning Board.
  6. Atul Sarma, Former Vice Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi University and Member, Finance Commission.
  7. G.S. Bhalla, Emeritus Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and former Member, Planning Commission.
  8. Yoginder K. Alagh, Former Minister of Power, Planning Science and Technology, Government of India and Chairman of 1977 Task Force on Poverty Estimation.
  9. S. Subramanian, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.
  10. Pulin Nayak, Professor Delhi School of Economics, Delhi.
  11. Ravi Srivastava, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
  12. Mahendra Dev, Director, Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai.
  13. Sheila Bhalla, Professor, Institute for Human Development, New Delhi.
  14. R. S. Deshpande, Director, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru.
  15. C.P. Chandrasekhar, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
  16. Madhura Swaminathan, Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.
  17. Ritu Dewan, Professor, University of Mumbai.
  18. Surjit Singh, Director, Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur.
  19. Sunanda Sen, Emeritus Professor, Jamia Millia University, New Delhi.
  20. K. Nagaraj, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.
  21. Alakh Sharma, Director, Institute for Human Development, New Delhi.
  22. Nirmal Kumar Chandra, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata.
  23. Venkatesh Athreya, Professor, MSSRF, Chennai.
  24. Sanjay Reddy, Professor, New School University, New York, USA.
  25. Jeemol Unni, Director, Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat.
  26. K.P. Kannan, former Director and Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
  27. Ratna Sudarshan, Director, Institute of Social Studies Trust, New Delhi.
  28. JBG Tilak, Professor, NUEPA University, New Delhi.
  29. Errol díSouza, Professor, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.
  30. Sucha Singh Gill, Professor, Punjab University Patiala.
  31. Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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