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Poverty Lines in India: Reflections After the Patna Conference

Urbanization and Infrastructure

This paper assesses the construction and application of poverty lines in India. Poverty lines serve normative and monitoring roles by (1) dividing the population into poor and non-poor and creating a social obligation to eradicate poverty through policy and (2) assessing trends in poverty and the efficacy of poverty alleviation measures. Past and present measures of poverty, however, can be misleading. The historical method of anchoring of poverty lines on the ability to purchase a basket of goods given a particular income failed to capture the possibility that households would not purchase the particular basket associated with their income. Current emphasis on average energy requirements as a measure of poverty lacks foundations in both social norms and nutritional science. Data on joint grouped distribution of persons by per capita expenditure level and per consumer unit energy intake show more than 60% of households in rural and urban India have energy intakes below 70% of the norm, confirming reliance on average energy intakes is misguided. A new approach to poverty measurement is needed. A rights-based approach which obligates the government to ensure individuals have the ability to exercise the right to food, education, etc. may be effective if reforms, such as the creation of a Fiscal Policy Review Council and a reconstitution of the Planning Commission as a Fund for Public Investment, are taken.

350wp.pdf (368.88 KB)
T.N. Srinivasan
Publication Date
September, 2007