ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Recounting India's Poor

Based as they are on a larger basket of consumption, the new official poverty estimates are more reliable.

The Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty under the chairpersonship of Suresh Tendulkar, which was constituted by the Planning Commission in 2005, has revised the estimate of poverty in India for 2004-05 to 37.2%, from the earlier official estimate of 27.5%, and for rural India to 41.8% from 28.3%. It has, however, left the all-India urban poverty estimate unchanged at 25.7%. While this recommendation has been widely covered in the press, its basis has not been made entirely clear. Part of the problem may lie in how the expert group worded its decision, but the main problem is that the press did not care to find out the relevant details; nor did the Planning Commission come out with any statement in clarification.

What has been highlighted in the media is that the Expert Group has decided to move away from basing poverty estimates on nutritional norms as measured by calorie intake to some broader measure of consumption of goods and services. While most have seen this as a positive step that takes poverty measurement in India away from an undue emphasis so far on calories, or even recognition that the poor in India now care about more than bare food needs, there is a lingering doubt that divorcing poverty measurement from nutrition may rob it of an essential normative basis. Indeed, the question which press reports have left hanging is: if calorie intake is no longer the norm, what is?

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