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Research Report

Poverty lines and lives of the poor Underestimation of urban poverty - the case of India

Meera Bapat
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2009
Pages: 56
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 9-13)
    Meera Bapat

    A large proportion of India’s population is poor. To distinguish the poor from the non-poor, a poverty line acts as a cut-off. The income that is needed to provide each individual with a certain specified minimum number of calories per day forms the basis for defining the official poverty line. There has been much debate and discussion over the years on this issue. The Planning Commission, Government of India, estimates the number and proportion of the poor in urban and rural areas in the country. It has claimed that the proportion of the poor has declined steadily over the years....

  2. (pp. 13-17)

    The methodologies used for the estimation of poverty lines,⁵ and the resultant poverty estimates, have been widely debated. There are two main strands of criticism on methodological issues in the measurement of poverty. The first strand accepts the calorie-norm framework but raises many important issues within it, including various deficiencies in the method of determining calorie requirements. The second strand of criticism states that calorie-based poverty estimates do not reflect the real extent of deprivation that poor people suffer. This strand suggests extending the definition of poverty beyond the “calorie norm” and supports inclusion of other essentials like expenditure on...

  3. (pp. 17-19)

    Supporters of the “calorie-norm” methodology for defining poverty could argue that even this minimum consumption level is not being reached by a substantial proportion of the population, and that the priority should therefore be to estimate the number of such families and design policies to reduce the calorie deficiency. Other dimensions of poverty and deprivation, this argument states, can be identified and addressed subsequently. A counter-argument is that the expenditure on non-food essentials has become so high that the poor may need to forgo food consumption to meet the other costs. In other words, at certain expenditure levels while it...

  4. (pp. 20-24)

    From 1976 to 1980, low-income households in Pune, faced with severe rises in the cost of living, resorted to increasing their workforce participation in order to preserve their standard of living, low as it was. This was particularly so in the poorest of these households. Women aged 25 to 40 from such households were especially involved in preventing the erosion of their families’ incomes. These were more mature households, in which adult women took up remunerated work after their early years of childbearing. The work most of them found was in domestic service, petty trading and waste-picking, and as miscellaneous...

  5. (pp. 25-33)

    The challenge of alleviating poverty and improving living conditions is both “structural” and “contingent”. It is rooted in the realities of urbanization and slow economic growth, and is contingent on the position, diagnosis and response of public policy, and public-sector action and intervention. Since India gained independence in 1947, the political rhetoric has been in favour of growth and social justice. The data regarding performance, however, show that poverty and inequality have remained deeply entrenched. Consequently, the number of people living in slums has increased rapidly and the promise of improved living conditions for all has remained unfulfilled.

    Assessed in...

  6. (pp. 33-39)

    The longitudinal study indicates that nearly two-thirds of slum dwellers remained at their original site over the 12-year period (from 1976 to 1988). Despite income improvements over that period, most people were unable to move to a better home or environment. One reason for this is the uncertainty of sustainable increase in income over a period of time. The restricted access is also related to the lack of affordable housing. This in turn is linked to the larger issue of the political economy of urban development. Town planning is intended to ensure orderly development and hygienic living conditions for all....

  7. (pp. 40-44)

    The narrow approach of the income-poverty line overlooks the multifaceted nature of human deprivation. “This can easily lead to a superficial and misleading understanding of the nature and causes, as well as the cures of human poverty. The grave danger posed by the income-poverty line approach is that it inevitably leads to a misidentification of the poor, and subsequently to the adoption of targeting, monitoring and evaluation criteria which are equally narrow, thus carrying the many blind spots in the concept of deprivation into the operational phase of interventions” (Saith, 2005).

    Another area of concern is the emphasis on growth...