The Need to Decelerate the Rise in Poverty Post COVID-19 in India

Author- Himanshu Ranjan

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According to a UNDP report, multidimensional poverty in India got reduced to 27.5 % from 54.7 % during the ten years of 2005 to 2015. The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index is released jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). 

The Multidimensional Poverty Index utilizes the information on ten indicators across three broad dimensions of Health, Education, and Standard of Living. 

DimensionIndicatorsDeprivation
Health Child Mortality If a child under the age of five years has died within the preceding five years

Nutritionif undernourished
Education Years of schoolingif no household member has completed six years of schooling

School attendance if no household member aged ‘school entrance + six years’ has completed six years of schooling
Standard of living Cooking fuelif dung, wood, or charcoal is used 

Sanitation shared sanitation or not following Millenium Development Goals guidelines

Drinking-WaterNo access to safe drinking water or accessible only when it takes half an hour for a home round trip 

Electricityif no electricity

Housing If either of roof, wall, or floor are inadequate 

Assetsif either of radio, TV, telephone, computer, bicycle, motorbike, car, truck, refrigerator, animal cart are not present

Source: The 2020 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index

Those who are deprived in at least one-third of these indicators are termed “multidimensionally poor”. Still 36.4 crore Indians experience an acute level of deprivation in nutrition, health, schooling, and sanitation. Clearly, the government needs to focus on all of these indicators in order to further decrease the percentage of poverty in India. 

As pointed out by this article, the poverty reduction rate was fastest among those who belonged to the poorest states, scheduled tribes, children, and the Muslim community. 

In the year 2009, the Suresh Tendulkar Committee was formed that reported that about 37.2 percent of the Indians were below the poverty line in 2004-05 and about 21.9 percent of the Indians lived below the poverty line in 2011-12. However, the C Rangarajan Panel formed in 2012 reviewed the Tendulkar Committee report and pointed out that about 29.5 % of people lived below the poverty line in India in 2011-12. 

In India, the incidence of poverty is highest in the states of Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Assam. According to this PRS report, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh also have a high level of poverty. It is noteworthy that the states belonging to southern India do not feature in the list. 

Urban poverty is also increasing as more and more people migrate from rural areas to the cities. Habitat for Humanity points out that in Greater Mumbai, Delhi NCR, and Kolkata 42 % to 55 % of the people are slum dwellers. 

The SDG India Index 2019-20 developed by NITI Aayog points out that the gains of the last decades have seen a reverse in trend and in the past two years poverty, hunger, and income equality have risen. The states of Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Tripura, and Odisha saw the highest such increase in recent years. 

A highlight of Niti Aayog’s paper asks for job creation, a need for a second green revolution, boosting growth in organized labour-intensive sectors, and setting up of Coastal Economic Zones to tackle poverty and the problem of inequity. It also focuses on strengthening the Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, MGNREGA, and Housing for All schemes to alleviate poverty. 

Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhar, Mobile (JAM) trinity can prove vital in securing the reach of the government to the deprived sections of the society. At the level of Gram Panchayats, efforts can be done to identify the most vulnerable households and lift them out of poverty. 

It is a worrying sign that the GDP growth rate of India had fallen to 3.1 percent (before the lockdown) and the NITI Aayog pointing out that the incidence of poverty has increased in recent years. Post the COVID-19, these data are only going to amplify. Hence, it now becomes the goal of the government representatives at all the levels – from top to down, the civil societies and NGOs, as well as the industrialists to take adequate measures such that more and more people are lifted out of the trap of poverty by improving the indicators related to hunger, malnutrition, health, education, sanitation, among others. 

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