There are other dismal facts about poverty in this 4th largest economy of the world on GDP at Purchasing Power Parity: it ranks 126th out of 177 countries listed in the World Human Development Index and the rate of child malnutrition double than that of sub-Saharan Africa. The most recent World Bank estimates for India are based on household surveys carried out in 1999-2000. It was found that almost 80 per cent of India’s population was surviving on less than $2.15 a day (in PPP terms), i.e. is about 800 million $1.40 a day or less and nearly 35 per cent were found to be living on $1.20 a day or less. With such factual and visible evidence enforcing existing bias, the defining element of our economy would remain identified with poor millions.
Rather than getting drowned into swirling oceans of data we need to look into the factors which lead to poverty. Since India is predominantly an agricultural country, it is the largest source of employment. More than three-fourths of their populations depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture here is dependent on monsoon. Sometimes due to uncertainty and irregularity of monsoon, agriculture collapses. Foodgrains production declines. Often there is drought. All these adversely affect the income generation prospect. These combine to result in poverty. People do not have other means of livelihood; they are left with no other option except to starve.
Illiteracy constitutes a major cause of poverty. It is really very distressing that after more than 60 years of independence, about one-fourth of our population do not know how to read and write. Illiteracy is one of the constraints which deprive one from opportunities to seek other forms of livelihood. It in fact forces people to stick to ancestoral jobs and prevents them from having job flexibility. Besides, caste system also puts constraints in the access to lucrative jobs to a vast majority of the people. Though constitutionally such institutions have been dismantled, their presence can still be seen in rural areas.
Furthermore, there has been increase in unemployment adding to the woes of poverty. Growing population is a great contributor to poverty. The average size of Indian family is relatively bigger, consisting of 4.2 members. All these factors make a vicious cycle of poverty and aggravate the problems related to poverty.
Poverty is a great pollutant. It is marked by an apathy that erodes self-esteem and any willingness to live life to the fullest. It is also an important factor in the creation of paradoxical situation, the lack of purchasing power amidst plentiful availability of food causing starvation deaths. Poverty makes education, balanced diet, health care facilities, etc. inaccessible. Obviously, all these deprivations immensely affect the personality development of a person, thus creating wide gaps between haves and have-nots.
The dimensions of poverty have been changing from time- to-time and place-to-place. There are two inter-related aspects of poverty-urban and rural. The main causes of urban poverty are predominantly due to impoverishment of rural peasantry that forces them to migrate to big cities to find livelihood. In this process they lose even the open space or habitat they had in villages, albeit without food and other basic amenities. In the cities, though they get food but other sanitary facilities including clean water supply still elude them. They are compelled to live in sub-human conditions. There is really a very paradoxical situation, when wealth and prosperity is concentrated in a few homes while millions have to go to bed without food. A select few enjoy the standards of living comparable to the richest in the world while the majority fails to meet both their ends.
It cannot be said that attempts have not been made by the government. Since 1970s poverty alleviation became the priority in government’s development planning. Policies have been framed with prime focus on improving standard of living of the people by ensuring them food security, promoting self- employment through greater access to assets, increasing wage employment and improving access to basic social services. It is with this aim that Public Distribution System was launched in 1965 to provide foodgrains to the poor at subsidised rates.
The Government of India launched the Integrated Rural Development Programme, the largest credit-based government poverty reduction programme in 1979 to provide rural households below the poverty line with credit to purchase income-generating assets. The beneficiaries include small and marginalised farmers, agricultural labourers, rural artisans, the physically handicapped, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Within the targeted population, 40 per cent of the beneficiaries are supposed to be women. Significantly, the programme has been successful enough to increase the income of 57 per cent of assisted families.
Unemployment and low-productivity have been significant causes of rural poverty. It is to address the problem that a national public work scheme, the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana was launched in 1989 to provide unemployment at the statutory minimum wage for unskilled manual labour, besides low-cost housing and to supply free irrigation well to poor and marginalised farmers. The programme has had a significant impact on poverty reduction. Besides, a number of other programmes for poverty alleviation are being carried on by government-Central and State.
As a consequence of attempts made by government, poverty showed a sharp decline in 1980s. This decline in poverty, to some extent, is also attributed to agriculture development of 1970s and 1980s resulting from the Green Revolutions. However, much more needs to be done, for India is the home to the largest poor population in the world. Basic necessities of life such as drinking water, health care facilities, etc. are still inaccessible to majority of population.
In this regard community participation and awareness campaign can make a difference. The media and the NGOs, besides other institutions have crucial role to play. The machinery involved in poverty alleviation need to be accountable, sensitised and sincere. New laws have to be evolved to ensure more accountability. The lack of transparency and accountability has hampered our economic development at all levels. A system of incentives and disincentives can also be of great importance. Thus, the situation is bound to change and society will be free from deprivation.