Poverty; the silent killer of Indian society

Haven’t we heard this word too often or have we stopped listening? We have all felt a shortage of cash at times. That is an individual experience. It is not the same as the social problem of poverty. While money is a measure of wealth, lack of cash can be a measure of lack of wealth, but it is not the social problem of poverty.

Poverty as a social problem is a deeply embedded wound that permeates every dimension of culture and society. It includes sustained low levels of income for members of a community. It includes a lack of access to services like education, markets, health care, lack of decision making ability, and lack of communal facilities like water, sanitation, roads, transportation, and communications. Furthermore, it is a “poverty of spirit,” that allows members of that community to believe in and share despair, hopelessness, apathy, and timidity. Poverty, especially the factors that contribute to it, is a social problem, and its solution is social

Poverty is a peculiar problem from which various countries of the world, particularly the Third World, have been suffering. There cannot be a common definition of poverty which can be broadly accepted everywhere. Thus there are large differences between the definitions of poverty accepted in various countries of the world.

Poverty is considered as the greatest challenge faced by the societies in the third world countries. Poverty is also concerned with the comparison with respect to a fixed line—known as poverty line. However, the poverty line is fixed extraneously and, therefore, remains fixed for a certain period.

Poverty Line:

Normally poverty is defined with poverty line. Now the question which is relevant at this point is what the poverty line is and how is it fixed? The answer to the question is that the poverty line is a cut-off point on the line of distribution, which usually divides the population of the country as poor and non-poor.

Accordingly, people having income below the poverty line are called poor and people with income above poverty line are called non-poor. Accordingly, this measure, i.e., the percentage of people living below the poverty line is known as head count ratio.

In India, broadly accepted definition of poverty emphasises more on minimum level of living rather than on reasonable level of living. Accordingly, it is broadly agreed that poverty can be termed as a situation where a section of the population fails to reach a certain minimum consumption standard. Differences arise with the fixing of this minimum consumption standard.

After a thorough examination, the study group set up by the Planning Commission in July 1962 recommended a standard of private consumption expenditure of Rupees 20 (at 1960-61 prices) per capita per month as the bare minimum amount common to both rural and urban areas.

Top 7 Causes of Poverty in India

1. Lack of Inclusive Economic Growth:

The first important reason for mass poverty prevailing in India is lack of adequate economic growth in India. In the first three decades of planned development (1951-81) in India, annual average growth in national income had been 3.6 per cent. With 2.1 per cent per cent per annum growth in population, per capita income grew by only 1.5 per cent per annum during this period. In addition, with the increase in saving rate from about 9 per cent in 1950-1951 to 20 per cent of GDP in 1979-80, increase in per capita consumption expenditure was too small to make any significant dent on the problem of poverty. Besides, because of prevailing income inequalities per capita consumption expenditure of the poor could have hardly risen.

2. Sluggish Agricultural Performance and Poverty:

Many economists have pointed out that in the year of good agricultural output, poverty ratio declines. Good performance in agriculture leads to more employment opportunities and fall in prices of food grains. More employment opportunities and lower food price cause poverty ratio to decline. The experience of Punjab and Haryana shows that with agricultural growth through use of new high yielding technology (popularly called green revolution); poverty ratio can be significantly reduced. However, in various states of the country such as Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, East Uttar Pradesh, where poverty ratio is still very high new high-yielding technology has not been adopted on a significant scale and as a result agricultural performance has not been good. As a result, poverty prevails to a larger extent in them.

3. Non-implementation of Land Reforms:

Equitable access to land is an important measure of poverty reduction. Access to adequate land, a productive asset, is necessary for fuller employment of members of an agricultural household. Most of the rural poor are agricultural labourers (who are generally landless) and self-employed small farmers owning less than 2 acres of land.They are unable to find employment throughout the year. As a result, they remain unemployed and under-employed for a large number of days in a year. No wonder that these landless agricultural labourers and self- employed small farmers remain poor. Land-reforms were intended to provide them equitable access to land.

4. Rapid Population Growth:

Rapid population growth since 1951 is another important factor responsible for persisting poverty in India. Population in India has increased from 36 crores in 1951 to 102.7 crores in 2001, that is, 66 crores people have been added to the Indian population in the last about 50 years since independence. Rapid population growth causes excessive sub-division and fragmentation of holdings. As a result, per person available land has greatly declined so that households do not have access to sufficient land to produce enough output and income for them.

Further, rapid growth of population increases the dependency ratio, that is, an earning member has more persons to support. This causes lower per capita consumption expenditure which is not enough even to meet the basic needs.

5. Unemployment and Under-employment:

The existence of unemployment and under­employment in the Indian economy is another cause of poverty in India. Unemployment prevails more among casual labour whose proportion in labour force has been increasing and in their case unemployment and poverty go together.

The unemployment has been caused by rapid growth of population and labour force on the one hand and relatively low rate of capital formation and economic growth on the other. Besides, the generation of employment opportunities by the organised sector has been quite insignificant.

As a result, the demographic reassure on land has been increasing resulting in unemployment, and disguised unemployment in agriculture and the informal sector. Thus has caused low productivity, low incomes and poverty.

6. Slow Growth of Employment:

In the beginning of the planning era it was thought the organised sector over a period of 20 years will generate sufficient employment opportunities for the unemployed poor. The actual experience has belied these hopes. Take, for instance, the experience of the last decade (1990-2000) of economic development.

7. Inflation and Food Prices:

Rate of inflation and level of food prices is an important factor that causes poverty. Inflation, especially rise in food prices, raises the cost of minimum consumption expenditure required to meet the basic needs. Thus, inflation especially raises in food prices pushes down many households below the poverty line.

Global Programmes Impacting against Poverty in India

Many initiatives are being taken up at the global front as well to help solve the problem of hunger and poverty. Some of these are:

1.      Ending Child Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative (ECHUI)-

This is a global initiative started by World Food Programme (WFP) that ensues global partnership and aims at reducing the causes and effects of child hunger and undernutrition. It aims to mobilise resources for actions on national levels to build awareness and address the issue on a global scale. On any given day, WFP has 5,000 trucks, 20 ships and 92 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance to those in most need. Every year, they distribute more than 15 billion rations at an estimated average cost per ration of US$ 0.31.

2.      Agenda 2030-

Agenda 2030 is the shortened name given to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is 17 goals set by the UN General Assembly in 2015. The top two goals of the agenda are to “End Poverty in all its forms, everywhere” and “End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”. This shows that the need of the hour is focusing on the poverty and its most drastic side effect of hunger. Most countries lack data on poverty and especially child poverty and thus it makes it difficult to make projections for the future.

3.      US Government Global Food Security Strategy (2017-2021)-

After the Global Food Security Act on 2016, the US Government, in partnership with other governments, universities, research institutes, civil societies and private sector built this strategy to focus on challenges like poverty and hunger. The vision of this strategy is “A world free from hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty.”

Mercy Corps worked closely with private sector partners, other NGOs, academic and research institutions, the faith community and Members of Congress to help pass H.R. 5129 and S. 2269 amendment bills. This bill ensures the Global Food Security Act’s improvements to the Global Food Security Strategy and the Feed the Future Initiative will continue beyond 2018.

Categories: India, News, Social Issues