India, the UN praises the New Delhi government for progress on poverty, but does not know if 34 million or 373 million people live in poverty

India, the UN praises the New Delhi government for progress on poverty, but does not know if 34 million or 373 million people live in poverty

MILAN (AsiaNews) - Last week the United Nations highlighted the positive results in terms of poverty reduction achieved by India over the past 15 years: according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and theOxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) of the University of Oxford, 415 million Indians lifted out of poverty between 2005-2006 and 2019-2021.

The measure of multidimensional poverty. The datum taken into consideration by the two institutes is the multidimensional poverty index, which is not based only on the level of income but seeks to measure the incidence of poverty in various areas of people's lives. In particular, the unit of analysis is considered the family to which a "deprivation score" is assigned based on the weight assigned to each indicator, which refer to the level of education, access to health services, the malnutrition rate and more. The report said that the intensity of poverty reduced from 47.1% in 2015-16 to 44.4% in 2019-21.

All improvements achieved. More specifically, the disadvantaged people based on the rate of malnutrition increased from 44.3% in 2005-2006 to 11.8% in 2019-2021. Infant mortality rose from 4.5% to 1.5%. People without fuel for cooking decreased from 52.9% to 13.9%, those without access to adequate sanitation decreased from 50.4% to 11.3%. Indians disadvantaged in terms of access to safe water fell from 16.4% to 2.7%, while people without electricity or shelter decreased from 29% to 44.9% and from 2.1% to 13.6% respectively.

With regard to these statistics, some observations can be made: first of all, despite the percentage reductions, in absolute terms a large part of the Indian population continues to be "multidimensionally" poor. Suffice it to consider that 10% of India's 1.5 billion - roughly the population right now - are still 150 million people. And in fact it is the United Nations itself that claims that there are over a billion people in the world still poor in various respects, most of whom are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, a region of which India is a part.

But there are 5 different estimates of poverty. At the same time, there are at least five different estimates of the number of poor people in India, ranging from 34 million to 373 million, in percentage terms it could be 2.5% or 29.5%. An important problem concerns the availability of national data. The most important and punctual ones are collected during the census every 10 years and the most recent date back to 2011, after the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided in 2021 to postpone the survey to a later date, officially due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of disadvantaged people is used by the government to distribute subsidies. One therefore wonders why the executive continues to postpone the census if, on the basis of the data presented so far, the reduction of poverty should be equivalent to a saving in spending on the disbursement of aid.

The threshold of 9 euros per month. The threshold used in India to determine the state of poverty was also last updated in 2011 and corresponds to less than 1,000 rupees a month (less than 11 euros) in metropolitan areas and 816 rupees (less than 9 euros) in rural areas. Under Indian law, these people are entitled to subsidized food rations and soft loans to purchase housing.

2.5% below the $1.9 a day threshold. Madhura Swaminathan, professor ofIndian Statistical Institute of Calcutta, at the time had criticized the choice of such a low threshold that does not allow the purchase of a healthy diet and access to education and health services is almost impossible, as demonstrated by research last year, according to which even those who live above the poverty line established by Delhi cannot afford access to basic services. Using the "classic" value for poverty, the one below an income of 1.9 dollars a day, the experts found that only 2.5% of the population today lives below this limit, thanks to large improvements since 2014, the year in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power.

The necessary threshold update. However, the same researchers have suggested raising the threshold to $3.2 a day for a more precise calculation of the poverty level. On the basis of this updated figure, Indians in disadvantaged conditions would account for more than 26% of the population. Other studies, which used consumption data, show that despite a general reduction in poverty between 2011 and 2022, the number of poor people increased during the pandemic period. Still others point out that poverty eradication can happen with an equitable distribution of wealth, “since 87% of poverty reduction is due to economic growth.

The urgency of a new census. However, those who are not directly participating in the growth process need to be helped through poverty reduction programs,” explained Amaresh Dubey, an economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi. But here we come full circle: ministries cannot update the list of beneficiaries of poverty reduction programs without government data from a new census.

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