Planning Commission Does It Again!
Lowers Poverty Line to Claim ‘Reduction’ in Poverty
Now, anyone spending more than Rs.22.40 in rural areas, and Rs 28.65 in urban areas, is NOT POOR!
Not long ago, the Planning Commission headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia generated countrywide outrage and protests when it submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating a poverty line of Rs 26 for rural India and Rs 32 for urban India. Now the Planning Commission has gone one step further, and has declared an even lower poverty line of Rs.22.40 in rural areas, and Rs 28.65 for urban areas.
By shifting the goalposts and lowering the poverty benchmark, the Planning Commission and UPA Government want the country and the world to believe that the numbers of the poor in India has reduced! The Planning Commission’s latest figures claim that BPL population as a percentage of the total population has reduced by 7 per cent between 2004-05 to 2009-10. The Government’s motive in claiming a ‘reduction’ in poverty is obvious: it has to justify slashing subsidies and hiking prices in its Budgets, and it has to establish ‘poverty reduction’ as an achievement of its neoliberal policies, before the general elections in 2014.
The idea that those spending above pitifully small amounts (not even Rs 23 and Rs 29 a day) are ‘not poor’ is a cruel joke, revealing of the insensitivity and complete disconnect from the reality of Indian people’s lives, on part of the neoliberal agents of World Bank-IMF, Montek Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh.
The notable thing is that even after manipulating the definition of poverty to back its false claims of ‘inclusive growth’, the Planning Commission’s data still shows an appalling increase in inequality and rampant destitution. If poverty were to be defined in a just manner, the extent of inequality and destitution would rightly prove to be much more.
Using the Gini Coefficient (on a scale from zero to 1, in which zero indicates perfect equality and 1 indicates absolute inequality), the data shows an increase in inequality in rural areas from 0.27 per cent during 2004-05 to 0.28 per cent during 2009-10, and in urban areas from 0.35 to 0.37. Inequality rose sharply in rural areas of relatively well-off States like Punjab (0.26 to 0.29), and Kerala (0.29 to 0.35); as well as Bihar (0.19 to 0.22), Madhya Pradesh (0.24 to 0.28) and Assam (0.18 to 0.22).
In urban areas, inequality rose in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Inequality rose most sharply in urban Kerala (0.35 to 0.40), Uttar Pradesh (0.34 to 0.40), Himachal Pradesh (0.26 to 0.35), Odisha (0.33 to 0.38), Punjab (0.32 to 0.36), Delhi (0.32 to 0.35) and Jammu and Kashmir (0.24 to 0.31).
The data also shows increased insecurity of the workforce. Employment data released by NSSO last year had already indicated jobless growth, with a decline in employment rate from 42% in 2004-05 to 39.2% in 2009-10. The latest data shows a dangerous casualisation of the workforce. Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the number of casual workers grew by 21.9 million, while growth in the number of regular workers nearly halved (compared with the period between 1999-2000 and 2004-05) to 5.8 million; the number of the self-employed, dominated by agricultural workers, fell by 25.1 million. The data also showed a high incidence of poverty among casual labourers in urban areas: 86% in Bihar; 89% in Assam; 58.8% in Orissa; 56.3% in Punjab; 67.6% in Uttar Pradesh, and 53.7% in West Bengal. Even lowering of poverty line could not escape the conclusion that the large majority of the increasingly casualised workforce in India is poor.
The data also shows high levels of destitution. 50% of the population of Bihar and Chhattisgarh are destitute, while 37-39% are destitute in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland too show increasing destitution levels. The data also shows high poverty ratios for Muslims.
The Household Amenities and Assets Census of 2011 released recently, also exposes the falsity of UPA Government’s ‘inclusive growth’ claims. Less than half (47%) of households in India have latrines. 39% have no kitchen, only 32% have tapped drinking water, only 29% have a concrete roof for their house, and 26% an LPG connection.
‘Growth’ in times of privatisation and liberalisation have only meant rapidly increasing prices, destitution, exclusion, unemployment, exploitative jobs, insecurity, and poverty for the vast majority of India’s people. Even the Government’s biased data cannot hide this reality entirely. The least the government must do in such times, is to expand the public distribution of food, fuel, and other essentials, and also to ensure free education, health, water and sanitation for all except the richest top layer of the population.
Crackdown in Koodankulam
Koodankulam is under siege, as we go to press. The Tamil Nadu Government, soon after by-polls in nearby Sankarankoil took place on March 18, changed its tune on the nuclear project. Announcing a Cabinet decision to commission the Koodankulam project without further delay, the TN Government abandoned its posture of sharing the people’s concerns about the project’s safety, and has announced that the nuclear project is needed for the State’s ‘progress’. It claims that all safety concerns have been allayed.
In preparations for what the local protestors fear will be a ‘nuclear Nandigram,’ there is huge police deployment in the area, incoming phones of activists have been jammed, and roads and transport towards Koodankulam and Idinthakarai have been blocked. Around 18 leading activists have been arrested, of whom several have been charged with sedition.
Updates from local people say that 6000 armed policemen presided over by TN’s ADGP, 3 DIGs and 20 SPs are stationed in the area, as a menacing presence. At Idinthakarai, villagers are spending night and day at the protest site, waiting for a crackdown. Section 144 has been imposed, and protestors are defying curfews to come to the protest site by boats. Around 20,000 have gathered in spite of all odds at the gate of the plant, and are on a relay hunger strike. 15 activists (8 men and 7 women) including the main leaders of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) are on indefinite hunger strike at Idinthakarai demanding the immediate release of arrested comrades; withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu cabinet resolution; a thorough and complete probe of geologists, hydrologists and oceanographers into the safety issues of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant; release of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed secretly by the governments of India and Russia on liability in February 2008; and safety drills and evacuation drills in the 30-km radius of the Koodankulam project.
This crackdown comes in the wake of an all-out offensive of nuclear jingoism by no less than the Prime Minister, accusing the protest of being ‘foreign funded’ and backed by foreign powers hostile to India’s growth ambitions.
A CNDP statement commented, “Not only is such anti-democratic behaviour deeply shocking, it is also extraordinary that this should happen at a time when over 80% of the Japanese public have repudiated nuclear energy demanding that their country’s nuclear plants be completely phased out, and when an official German Ethics Commission on Nuclear Safety said “Fukushima has shaken people’s confidence in expert’s assessments of the ‘safety’ of nuclear power stations. This is also and particularly true of those citizens who have until now relied on such assessments. Even citizens who do not reject nuclear power categorically are no longer prepared to leave it to committees of experts to decide how to deal with the fundamental possibility of an uncontrollable, major accident.”
A letter by concerned citizens addressed to the Tamil Nadu CM pointed out, “The Tamilnadu Chief Minister’s claim that the Expert Committees have addressed all concerns raised by the protestors is contrary to fact. Numerous issues such as the lack of back-up water supply, the fate of the desalination plants in the event of seawater recession, the quantum and fate of nuclear wastes and the sub-lethal effects of thermal pollution on marine biodiversity are only a few of the issues that remain wholly unaddressed by the Committees. Information relating to the arrangements made between the Governments of India and Russia relating to liability in the event of a nuclear disaster have been withheld....Commissioning the plant at this stage without having conducted the statutorily required emergency drills is a clear indication of the lack of safety culture, and the insincerity of the declarations that the plant is safe...It is unfortunate that the Government is making it seem as if commissioning Koodankulam will bail the state out of its electricity crisis. It is a fact that if at all commissioned, the 1000 MW plant is unlikely to yield more than 250 MW.”
Stop Koodankulam – Heed the Voice of Sanity and People’s Protests!