The other night I was sitting with a friend and discussing about our weak economic status or our existence in below poverty (BPL) line category. That night combined we had Rs.60, i.e. Rs. 30 each and as we are living in an urban area we could claim to be poor people of the city. But here’s a catch, if we would be in our country side or rural area then we wouldn’t be classified as poor with the same amount in fact richer by Rs. four (because it’s Rs. 26 for rural and Rs. 32 for urban as the wage/day to be poor).
I asked my friend what exactly is poverty, how is it measured and whether we form a part of it or not? He first answered my last question with a slap by saying that poverty doesn’t mean not having enough money to impress a girl but it’s more related to the minimum intake of calories as per the geography of residence, i.e. a person living in rural would require 2,400 minimum calories and a person in urban would require 2,100. I was surprised by two things, first that I never tried to impress a girl because after 40 years and six births I’ve realized I am boon to live alone and second I know a couple of girls from my work place whose minimum intake of calories would be 1,000 but amazingly they don’t look poor at all.
In fact he told me that poor people are further divided into sub categories, first comes always poor these are people who remain poor throughout their life time, pretty much my status when I was in school with no pocket money. Next are chronic poor who sometimes have little money (casual labor), my condition in college when I used to do small jobs here and there. Then comes churning poor who frequently moves in or out of the poverty, my story once I get a salary I remain above poverty line for first 10 days and after that moves back to BPL and last not the least are transient poor/occasionally poor who are rich most of the time but may have a patch of bad luck, a clear cut case of my friend when he would be fired from his boss.
Last year, world touched a population of 7 billion (thanks to some generous contribution from India and China) and out of these about one-fifth of the total poor lives in our nation. In fact in 1973, when Rishi Kapoor marked his debut with his famous film Bobby, more than half of our population was a part of BPL category. Nearly four decades later we might have reduced the percentage to 25% (2005-06) but it still doesn’t tell the real story. Govt. forced attempt to show minimum people under BPL has more than saddened the situation, their claim of minimum wages is more than half what has been set by World Bank (which is $1.25).
The aim is to reduce the poverty if it can’t be completely removed, other than income and assets there are various other factors that cause poverty like lack of education, no basic health facility, social exclusion. If a person could get good education then he could further improve his skills and knowledge and get them in use at his work which would fetch him a good salary. From the presence of health facilities he could reduce his risks of being disease prone and if he is not socially expelled, then he could reap out the benefits from a progressive society.
The current definition of poverty ignores all these factors and stick to the concept that below poverty line would only be considered to those people who are dying out of starvation. This concept might be based on cave men era that doesn’t require any clothing (other than a pair), clean water, sanitation and other basic facilities because govt. thinks if a poor man is just surviving then its more than enough for its benefit.