Originally Published 2012-04-04 00:00:00 Published on Apr 04, 2012
Why have the north-eastern States remained poor? This has to be looked into carefully. It has to do with inadequacy or inefficacy of development programmes for income generation. Why have some states like Bihar, UP and Chhattisgarh also not done well?
Focus on industrialisation to tackle rural poverty
ON the basis of the controversial poverty line according to which anyone earning Rs 28.35 per day in urban areas and Rs 22.42 in rural areas is above the poverty line, the latest Household Consumer Expenditure Survey for 2009-2010 has revealed that India’s poverty ratio has gone down from 37.2 per cent to 29.8 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-2010. Also, according to the Planning Commission, poverty reduction has been faster than in the previous five years.

In the face of much flak from Opposition parties, a ’technical committee’ has been appointed to examine the methodology of calculating the poverty line according to the Suresh Tendulkar formula because there have been many changes, specially in the rate of inflation, since the formula was first adopted in 2009.

Also more data on the basis of the ongoing Socio-Economic and Caste Census will reveal the extent of poverty according to different castes and communities. This will come out in July 2012 and will give a more comprehensive and complete picture. According to the Planning Commission, poverty has declined more in the rural areas (from 41.8 per cent to 33.6 per cent) than in the urban areas. If that is so, it is good news and shows that the rural-urban divide is narrowing.

A few days ago the new Census report 2011 had also thrown up a number of facts about the rural sector which show that rural consumption of goods and services has indeed gone up, specially of mobile phones, banking services, TV sets and cycles/motorcycles, but in many other important areas it is woefully backward and some human development indicators still remain low. What is surprising is that poverty reduction in north-eastern states has been much less though their achievements on the human development front are better than others.

In sanitation, health and education especially, it seems that rural India is still far behind the other emerging countries like Brazil, China and South Africa and the availability of toilets or safe drinking water from taps in village homes is far from universal. There is an endemic problem of malnourishment among children under five years of age due to the lack of proper diet. Rapid poverty reduction can take place only with more public investment in health infrastructure.

Unfortunately, rural health care facilities are not adequate. The excerpts from the HUNGAMA survey of 100 districts in the recent Economic Survey reveal that 42 per cent of the children under five years are underweight and 59 per cent are stunted due to malnourishment. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has provided for substantial duty reduction on Soya protein and Soya protein concentrates as well as on all processed soya food products in the recent Budget, but will it reach the malnourished children?

Even if there has been a decline in rural poverty, the quality of teaching in rural schools remains uneven and inadequate. The recent Economic Survey has a report in which the problems in rural schools have been spelt out (ASER 2011). According to it, over half of all classes in rural government primary schools are multi-grade and more than half of all standard 2 and standard 4 classes sit together with another class. Also, the basic reading skill levels are showing a decline as well as arithmetic levels across most states. Though there has been an increase in the number of toilets for girls and in libraries, attendance has been declining. If the states really want to go for sharper and rapid poverty reduction, they have to first ensure that the village schools are properly run.

The Planning Commission has rightly pointed out that in rural India, the households with the primary education level and lower education have the highest poverty ratio whereas the reverse is true for households with secondary and higher education. Much more is needed in providing rural roads and transport which is one of the main reasons for the rural poor from not being able to travel to nearby towns to seek work. Rural mobility ought to be a priority area as it will enable manufacturing companies to sell their products into the hinterlands of India and also provide jobs in retail.

Rural industrialisation is also important for providing jobs for rural youth. Part of the urban congestion is due to the constant flow of migrant workers seeking jobs in towns. Providing job training and imparting skills is something that the government has to focus on for increasing the employability of millions of village youth. It is good to know that Rs 1205 crore has been assigned for skill training for the youth in Budget 2012. Vocational training will be important in towns.

Poverty reduction is sustainable if rural women have extra incomes. Most rural women are very industrious and are also involved in handicrafts production in their spare time. If a ’hub’ for rural handicrafts in each district could be established, it would enable rural women to gather ideas about market trends and appropriate raw materials to be used. In some states, cooperatives and NGOs have been helpful in enabling the women to earn more by opening marketing and credit channels for them. Many NGOs also offer skill training and provide raw materials and have accelerated poverty reduction.

Why have the north-eastern states remained poor? This has to be looked into carefully. It has to do with inadequacy or inefficacy of development programmes for income generation. Why have some states like Bihar, UP and Chhattisgarh also not done well? Maybe because these states have a larger proportion of Muslims, members of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and OBCs in their rural population who, according to the Planning Commission, have higher poverty ratios. The poverty ratio for Muslims is very high in states like Assam, UP, West Bengal and Gujarat.

Among other social categories, the Scheduled Tribes face the highest level of poverty followed by the Scheduled Castes and OBCs as against 33.6 per cent for all classes in rural areas. Rural poverty is lowest among the Sikhs at 11.9 per cent.

For better targeting of the government welfare schemes, corruption in their delivery has to be stopped and people below the poverty line should be helped to rise above it and never slip back into poverty again. This can only happen with universal health care and effective primary education. Better targeting of PDS would also help reduce poverty faster. One big illness in the family can push the members to below the poverty line as the cost of private treatment is exorbitant and the poor have to borrow from money-lenders. The availability of cheap medicines through government dispensaries is also extremely important for sustained poverty reduction.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Tribune

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David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

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