The latest bill that has granted 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS) among the upper castes raises many critical questions on its method of ‘eligibility’ .
Above and Below Poverty Line (APL/BPL) is the established method of assessing ‘eligibility’ to get government support, especially subsidised food items. Poverty is the criterion.
In India, the rate of poverty assessment came into being in 1962. The Planning Commission constituted a Working Group in 1962 to find out a desirable minimum level of income for the population.
The Working Group recommended that the national minimum consumption expenditure for a household of five persons (four adult consumption units) should not be less than Rs 100 per month or Rs 20 per capita per month in terms of 1960‐61 prices. For urban areas, this figure was Rs 125 per month or Rs 25 per capita per month.
The basic criterion was the calorie intake of a person. It was V M Dandekar and Nilakantha Rath who defined a method to calculate calorie intake in both rural and urban areas to measure poverty. Based on the National Sample Survey data, the duo defined calorie intake of 2250 for both rural and urban areas as the measure of poverty.
So a rural household with an annual per capita expenditure of Rs 170.80 (or equivalent to Rs 14.20 per capita per month) at the 1960-61 prices was considered above the poverty line. The corresponding figures in the urban area were Rs 271.70 and Rs 22.60 at 1960-61 prices.
In 1979, another task force by Y K Alagh estimated the calorie norm as 2400 kcal per capita per day in rural areas and 2100 kcal per capita per day in urban areas.
In 1993, the Lakdawala Committee report came up with different criteria for the poverty estimation.
The Lakdawala committee's method showed that poverty was declining in the country and it was the agenda of the government to show that the poverty rate was coming down. However, it needs a continuous efforts by the government to show the declining trend.
In 2009, the Expert Group by Tendulkar adopted the officially measured urban poverty line of 2004‐05 based on Expert Group (Lakdawala) methodology and converted this poverty line (which is URP‐consumption based) into MRP-consumption.
However, the findings of the committee raised many objections and the government had to appoint another panel headed by C Rangarajan to revise the number and the method of assessing poverty.
The Rangarajan committee assessed that the Monthly Per‐capita Consumption Expenditure (MPCE) of Rs 972 (554+141+277) in rural areas and Rs 1407 (656+407+344) in urban areas which constituted as the new poverty lines. For a five member family—Rs 4,860 in rural and Rs 7,035 in urban. The average calorie requirement works out to 2155 kcal per capita per day in rural areas and 2090 kcal per capita per day in urban areas.
The calorie intake is the criteria for assessing the number of poor, so the income also matters. Here is the importance of officially neglected Arjun Sen Gupta Committee report’s findings in the context of income based reservation.
According to the committee report, 92 percent of the country's workforce is employed in the informal or unorganised economy (i.e. those who work in the unorganised sector plus the informal workers in the organised sector). It is but natural that there is a high congruence between the poor and the vulnerable segments of the society (who may be called the common people).
In 2004‐05, the Extremely Poor constituted 6.4 percent, the Poor 15.4 percent, the Marginally Poor 19.0 percent. These three constituted 41 percent of the population. If the vulnerable are added to this group, the total accounts for 77 percent of the population, i.e., a majority live with between Rs 20 and Rs 34 day.
The Arjun Sen Gupta Report was completely dismissed and neglected by the government and political parties. The Left parties often refer this report for political purpose.
Every political party except All India Muslim League and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen opposed the Bill. Their opposition was on the importance of reservation among Muslims which was strongly recommended in Sachar Committee reports. So, those who endorse the reservation for the economically weaker class must revise the poverty line in the country and ensure that all poor are eligible for reservation and subsidies. All parties agree that Rs 8,00,000 as the benchmark while for the structurally excluded poor have to limit their income at Rs 4,860/ in Rural and Rs 7,035 for urban to get the support of social security. This is injustice.
There is no foolproof method to identify the poor. It is the responsibility of the ruling party and those who support the bill to explain how the method of assessing income limit is estimated? What is the difference between Rs 8,00,000 and Rs 4,860/ in Rural and Rs 7,035 for urban areas in getting government support? One argument could be that the economic reservation for getting jobs only and not for subsidies. If we agree to this argument, Parliament should explain why they are not amending the calorie intake norms for poor and why there are high margins for other weaker middle class.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences)
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Updated Date: Jan 11, 2019 07:43:54 IST