The Rich Get Richer at the Cost of the Poor
[India's ruling class, especially in the era of liberalisation, are keen to project an image of India as a country on the make; a country with a dollar-like symbol for its currency; a country that sups with the great powers of the world. Naturally, such a ruling class is reluctant to acknowledge the embarrassing fact of the sheer unvarnished poverty of much of its population.
The findings of a recent study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative with UNDP support would therefore be quite galling for our ruling class. The study establishes that 8 Indian states account for more poor people (421 million in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal) than in the 26 poorest African countries (410 million) combined.
This study, instead of using income or calories alone as a measure of poverty, has developed a 'multidimensional poverty index' (MPI) that comprises ten indicators: years of schooling and child enrolment (education); child mortality and nutrition (health); and electricity, flooring, drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel and assets (standard of living).
The experts can quarrel about whether or not this new index is the most accurate measure of poverty or not. But what cannot be wished away is that while our ruling class rubs shoulders with the mighty imperialist powers and shrugs off the colonial legacy as a thing of the past, it cannot deny that when it comes to ensuring basic nutrition for its people, especially its children, India performs worse even than other colonial cousins like the poorest of African nations!
One can imagine how much tougher the struggle of India's poor for survival would have been during the recession that has continued for the pact couple of years, and which has meant steeply escalating prices of essentials. Below are excerpts from two news stories in the Times News Network on poverty and wealth in India. -Ed.]
The Poor Struggle…
"India’s abysmal track record at ensuring basic levels of nutrition is the greatest contributor to its poverty as measured by the MPI. …
"The new data also shows that even in states generally perceived as prosperous such as Haryana, Gujarat and Karnataka, more than 40% of the population is poor by the new composite measure…
"Nutritional deprivation is overwhelmingly the largest factor in overall poverty, unsurprising given that half of all children in India are under-nourished according to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06). Close to 40% of those who are defined as poor are also nutritionally deprived. In fact, the contribution of nutrition to the overall MPI is even greater in urban than rural India.
"A comparison of the state of Madhya Pradesh and the sub-Saharan nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which have close to the same population and a similar MPI (0.389 and 0.393 respectively), shows that nutritional deprivation, arguably the most fundamental part of poverty, in MP far exceeds that in the DRC….
"Multi-dimensional poverty is highest (81.4% poor) among Scheduled Tribes, followed by Scheduled Castes (65.8%), Other Backward Class (58.3%) and finally the general population (33.3%).
"… Based on the MPI, Bihar has by far the most poor of any state in the country, with 81.4% of its population defined as poor, which is close to 12% more than the next worst state of Uttar Pradesh.
"As per the Planning Commission’s figures, 41.4% of Bihar and 32.8% of UP is poor. … Almost 60% of north-east India and close to 50% of Jammu & Kashmir are poor as per the MPI, while the Planning Commission figures are around 16% and 5% respectively…."
From '55% of India's population poor', Rukmini Srinivasan, TNN, July 15, 2010)
...While the Rich Prosper
"Last year may have been a cruel year for much of the country with double-digit food inflation, but India’s high net worth individuals (HNWIs) prospered — just over 120,000 in number, or 0.01% of the population, their combined worth is close to one-third of India’s Gross National Income (GNI).
"HNWIs, in this context, are defined as those having investable assets of $1 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables. According to the 2009 Asia-Pacific Wealth Report, brought out by financial services firms Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, at the peak of the recession in 2008, India had 84,000 HNWIs with a combined net worth of $310 billion. ...
"According to the firms’ 2010 World Wealth Report, India now has 126,700 HNWIs, an increase of more than 50% over the 2008 number. While the figure for combined net worth is not available, it seems safe to assume that as a class not only have India’s super-rich recouped their 2008 losses, they have even made gains over their pre-crisis (2007) positions. In 2007, 123,000 HNWIs were worth a combined $437 million.
"Meanwhile, in 2009 alone, an estimated 13.6 million more people in India became poor or remained in poverty than would have been the case had the 2008 growth rates continued, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). Also, an estimated 33.6 million more people in India became poor or remained in poverty over 2008 and 2009 than would have been poor had the pre-crisis (2004-7) growth rates been maintained over these two years...."
- From 'Rich getting richer', Rukmini Shrinivasan, TNN, June 25, 2010.