Estimation of Poverty in Bundelkhand
Officially, poverty is measured in India in two ways and neither is very helpful
in estimating poverty in Bundelkhand.
The Planning Commission defines poverty in terms
of per capita monthly expenditure corresponding to per capita daily requirement
of 2400 calories in rural areas and 2100 calories in urban areas. The per capita
monthly expenditure is obtained from the National Sample Survey Organisation,
which conducts an extensive consumer-expenditure National Sample Survey (NSS)
every five years. A 'poverty line', originally calculated for 1973-74, is then
revised, using a price index for rural and urban areas.
Leaving aside basic objections to this method of
estimating poverty, as well as objections related to methodological issues such
as choice of price index, a limitation of this method is that it relies on
sample surveys, which do not give us a good district-wise picture. We do get a
region-wise picture, but Bundelkhand, as we understand it (see Boundaries of
Bundelkhand) does not constitute an NSS 'sample region'. All UP Bundelkhand
districts do constitute an NSS sample region (in case of MP, the Bundelkhand
districts are spread over three NSS sample regions) but the picture that emerges
about UP Bundelkhand from NSS data is dubious.
According to NSS (50th Round) 1993-94 data, UP
Bundelkhand was the poorest region of the state, with close to 70% of the
population living below the poverty line. However, by NSS (55th Round) 1999-2000
data, the figure dropped drastically to around 27%. No world-record-breaking
feat was achieved in the intervening years. The drastic drop was due to the fact
that the two NSS surveys did not use the same design. Hence, straightforward
comparisons between the two estimates are invalid. Conclusions derived from the
two surveys, including one that suggests incidence of poverty in UP overall fell
from 41% to 31% in this period, are not taken seriously.
Some methods have been suggested for
'correcting' the 1999-2000 estimates to make them comparable with the 1993-94
estimates. The 'corrected' rate of incidence of poverty in rural and urban UP
Bundelkhand, quoted in the 2003 Human Development Report- Uttar Pradesh, is
around 38%. The correction however does not take into account a basic problem:
to start with, the number of sample households from Bundelkhand was very small.
Hence, as a 2002 World Bank study on poverty in UP noted, 'sampling errors are
likely to be large' [World Bank, p 20 footnote].
Another problem, not specific to Bundelkhand but
relevant to the region, is that in 1993-94, there was a high concentration of
households around the poverty line. A little economic growth could push a large
number of people above the poverty line. However, many of those who 'got pushed
up' from below the poverty level continue to be vulnerable to 'shocks' that can
pull them back to below the poverty line [World Bank, ii]. And Bundelkhand is
highly prone to weather-induced shocks (see Impact of Bundelkhand's Geo Profile
on Human Life).
The other official method of estimating poverty is also contentious. The Union
ministry of rural development has been estimating rural households living below
the poverty line (BPL) every five years since 1992. While the NSS estimates
percentage of poor, the BPL survey seeks to identify particular BPL households
in rural areas, which then become eligible for various social welfare scheme
benefits, including subsidised foodgrains through the public distribution system
Following criticism of the design of the 1992
and 1997 BPL surveys, the Union government appointed an expert group, which
suggested use of a schedule with 13 socio-economic indicators, to be filled in
through house-to-house surveys. The indicators related to factors like size of
land holding, type of house, availability of clothing per person, food security,
sanitation, possession of consumer durables, literacy, status of household in
labour force and means of livelihood. Against each indicator, a household was
given a score of 0 to 4. The lowest aggregate score thus was 0; the highest was
52. There was also a 'cut-off' score to determine whether a family falls below
or above the poverty line.
This method, used in 2002, had many problems.
First, there were design issues, in the scoring system. If a family ate less
than one square meal a day, it got 0 on this parameter, but a family that ate
twice a day got a high score of 3, even if it faced occasional shortages.
Similarly, a family with a one adult male and female earning-member got a high
score, regardless of the income earned. Implicit in the scoring system was the
assumption that all indicators carry equal weight. Hence, having less than one
meal a day was given the same weight as not owning specified consumer durables
like electrical appliances - which is quite absurd.
There were also problems in the way the
questions were framed, which would have been reflected in data collected. There
are fine distinctions between having 'less than one square meal per day for
major part of the year' and 'normally, one square meal per day, but less than
one square meal occasionally', which are likely to be missed by respondents if
the surveyor is in a hurry - which is more than likely. Most questions were
highly specific, but in some cases, there was considerable scope for
interpretation. What, for example, is a 'major part of the year'? Six months, or
A major problem related to cut-off scores. There
was no common cut-off score across the country. State governments were allowed
to specify cut-off scores, and it could vary from village to village.
Predictably, there were serious allegations of different cut-off scores being
used for political reasons. Cut-off scores were also determined by
administrative and fiscal reasons- by the number of BPL households to which a
state government could provide due benefits.
There was an overriding cut-off predetermined by
the Planning Commission, on the basis of the NSS data: in no case could
percentage of BPL households in a state exceed the poverty ratio of the state
determined according to NSS data. (The sheer absurdity of mixing up two surveys
that used different methods, for different purposes, was overlooked).
Accordingly, in many states, district administrations were given 'limits' to
maximum number of BPL households that could be identified in particular blocks.
In effect, the 2002 BPL Survey did not attempt
to identify BPL households. It only attempted to identify households that would
be eligible for BPL benefits, according to the state government's capacity and
interest. And many of these households were wrongly identified, deliberately, to
please vested interests and get election benefits.
For good reason, the Supreme Court ordered a
stay on the use of the survey, following a writ petition filed by the People's
Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The stay was lifted in February 2006, and
various half measures were suggested to resolve problems related to the survey.
While the 2002 survey results would form the basis for benefits under centre
government schemes, state governments were free to adopt any other
criteria/survey for choosing beneficiaries for their schemes. Complaints were
invited and re-surveys were ordered.
In MP, the government decided that the BPL list
would be prepared in such a way that it would include all households that were
in the 1997-98 list - no matter that a survey new design was used in 2002 as the
earlier design was found to be flawed. In UP, a completely new survey was
ordered by Mayawati after she came to power, but the survey was suspended by her
in October 2008, after the opposition alleged that landless and homeless
households among the upper castes and OBCs were being deleted from the BPL list,
and households supporting the ruling party were being included indiscriminately.
To cut short a long story that has seemingly no
end, we have no reliable and acceptable way of estimating poverty in
Bundelkhand. For whatever it is worth, the poverty level in Bundelkhand
districts, on the basis of pre-determined cutoff 2002 BPL survey scores, ranged
from around 21% in Mahoba to 55% in Chitrakoot, in UP and 17% in Datia to 52% in
Damoh, in MP. The figures for Mahoba and Datia are absurd.
However, responses to particular questions,
discussed in 2002 BPL Survey Data, do give us a fairly good picture of poverty
across the region, if we look only at the data, and not the overall scores, and
treat the data cautiously.
Courtesy : bundelkhandinfo.org