Researching Poverty in India: Varying Methodologies and Standpoints

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

In 2003, Anirudh Krishna et al published two papers in EPW on the characteristics of household poverty in southern Rajasthan and northern Gujarat. In order to assist the formulation of poverty-avoidance policies for these regions, the researchers developed a new methodology to investigate the reasons why households escape from or fall into poverty. This method, the stages of progress approach, was further improved by the researchers, and in 2004, they used it to study household poverty in 36 villages in Andhra Pradesh.

For their research, Krishna et al interviewed village seniors, and asked them about the conditions of the households 25 years ago, using the national emergency of 1975-77 as a reference point. The researchers then asked them about their own understanding of poverty, in terms of the “stages of progress” poor households undergo to escape poverty. Their studies revealed that the lack of food, lack of clothing, inadequate housing, and an inability to repay household debts were the main characteristics within the local definitions of poverty and that a household that had food could repair a leaky roof, was paying off their debt and had clothing to wear outside the house qualified as households that have effectively escaped poverty. 

C S Murty responded to Krishna’s studies from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh and wrote that the research methodology followed was an “unorthodox” one. Referring specifically to the paper on Andhra Pradesh, Murty argued that a reporting bias may have crept into the study as the procedure involves asking the respondents to recollect events that occurred 25 years ago. Murty believed that the respondents may have underquoted the progress they made. Murty wrote that conventionally, poverty measurement was rooted in identifying people below normatively fixed poverty lines, which is why Krishna’s methodology was “unorthodox.” 

Krishna responded to Murty’s rejoinder, by asserting that in order to understand why poverty is still rampant in India, one needs to know the specific causes of poverty in different regions of the country, which orthodox research methods do not provide. New methods, such as the states of progress method, are required to fill the knowledge gaps. Regarding Murty’s comments on the use of a 25-year period, Krishna responds that the time period coincides with roughly one generation in time and since each response was cross-checked before entry, there was no expectation of bias in the estimates.

 

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Employment and Poverty in 1990s, K Sundaram, 2001
  2. Has Poverty Declined in India in the 1990s? D Narayana, 2001
  3. Estimation of District Income and Poverty in Indian States, A Indira, Meenakshi Rajeev and Vinod Vyasulu, 2002
  4. Estimation of District Incomes and Poverty, K G K Subba Rao, 2002
  5. Poverty and Inequality in India, Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze, 2002

 

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“Research and Poverty”

 

Curated by Anandita Chandra [anandita@epw.in]

 

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