Jharkhand numbers better than Bihar, Chhattisgarh; but chief minister Munda beset with own problems
|SUMAN K. SHRIVASTAVA|
Ranchi, April 13: Controversial as it may have become, Planning Commission data indicates that poverty levels have fallen in Jharkhand in spite of well documented bouts of political instability that have often plagued the Maoist-hit state.
The latest data released by the commission suggests that the number of poor in Jharkhand dipped by 6.2 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-10, a period which saw two spells of President's Rule and the scam-tainted tenure of Madhu Koda as chief minister.
The decline in poverty in the rural areas has been significant. It dipped by 10 per cent to log 41.60 per cent from 51.60 per cent. However, urban areas display the opposite trend with poverty levels rising to 31.10 per cent from 23.80 per cent.
Jharkhand's performance in poverty alleviation is dismal when compared to states like Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand which have registered a drop of 20, 12.3 and 14.7 per cent, respectively.
But the state's figures look good when compared to neighbouring states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh that have managed to bring down the poverty head count only marginally by 0 .90 and 0.70 per cent.
The latest estimates, based on a new poverty line reached through the Tendulkar methodology, has stirred a debate on the effectiveness of the measure in capturing the actual number of people living below the poverty line.
The Planning Commission's claim that the proportion of BPL persons — who can spend Rs 22.40 per day in rural areas and Rs 28.65 a day in urban areas has gone down by 7 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-10 — has also come under attack.
But commission member S. Mahendra Dev has defended the approach. "There is some degree of arbitrariness in all poverty lines but once it is defined, it helps as a yardstick," he told The Telegraph.
Regional director of Institute of Human Development Harishwar Dayal said the latest data on Jharkhand's poverty levels was a fair indicator of changing patterns of consumption and migration.
"The data suggests that the poverty level has gone down by around 2 per cent per annum, which is satisfactory. It means that the consumption level of the people has improved," said the St Xavier's College economics professor.
"The increase in urban poverty levels implies that the poor from rural areas have migrated to urban locations in good number and they have not been absorbed in the urban economy," he pointed out and added that since the Tendulkar Committee had drawn the poverty line based on monthly per-capita consumption expenditure, it would suggest that income generation, particularly in rural areas, had improved.
"Even if people migrate they send money back to their homes," Dayal said.
The irony is that the improved social indicators of Jharkhand have left the state government in a quandary as it receives funds from the Centre which takes into account Planning Commission data as the upper limit cap while fixing state-wise allocations for welfare schemes.
"Since, the identification of BPL families has to be done by the state, it finds itself in a dilemma now that it will have to screen the number of poor," the professor pointed out.
No wonder chief minister Arjun Munda was quick to criticise the commission's poverty data, saying the yardstick followed was faulty and that it would bring down the number of BPL families in the state at a time when demands were pouring in from all quarters to include more people in the classification.
"It has failed to capture the actual number of the poor which has grown with the steep price hike. In fact, the Centre's economic policy has created anger among the poor. So, the figures are misleading," he told The Telegraph.
On the rise of urban poor, Munda, however, said that the people had certainly migrated to urban areas from villages, a trend that needed to be stopped for inclusive and overall growth of the state.
The commission's data also suggest that among various social groups, STs recorded the highest levels of poverty (47.4 per cent) nationally, a fertile constituency for Maoists to nurture, especially in states like Jharkhand with a considerable tribal population.