Necessary steps to ending poverty -Pulapre Balakrishnan

-The Hindu

The provision of health, education and public services matters more than income support schemes

It is by now close to 50 years since Indira Gandhi brought the idea of eradicating poverty into the electoral arena in India. ‘Garibi Hatao’ had been her slogan. She actually took the country some distance in the promised direction. Though it had not come close to being eradicated in her time, it was under her leadership that the reduction in poverty commenced, in the late 1960s. And it was under her leadership again that the reduction accelerated, in the early 1980s. This is not surprising for she was a pragmatic politician and took pride in being Indian. While the last attribute motivated her to improve the condition of her people, the first left her aware of the centrality of income generation in poverty eradication.

The role that income generation actually played in lowering poverty in India may be gauged from the facts that economic growth had surged in the 1980s, and the late 1960s was when agricultural production quickened as the Green Revolution progressed.

Words matter

So, if there had been a focus on poverty even 50 years ago, why have we not seen it end? This is because the approach of public policy to the problem has been to initiate schemes which could serve as no more than a palliative, as suggested by the very term ‘poverty alleviation’ commonly used in the discourse of this time. These schemes failed to go to the root of poverty, which is capability deprivation that leaves an individual unable to earn sufficient income through work or entrepreneurship. Income poverty is a manifestation of the deprivation, and focussing exclusively on the income shortfall can address only the symptom.

Parties and schemes

In the run-up to the elections now, schemes guaranteeing income to the poor through budgetary transfers have been announced by both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. Actually, the BJP’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan), paying farm households below a threshold ?6,000 a year, is already in place. An income-support scheme for any one section of the population is grossly inequitable. We can think of agricultural labourers and urban pavement dwellers as equally deserving of support as poor farmers. While it is the case that at present agricultural subsidies go to farmers alone, these are intended as production subsidies and so channelled due to the criticality of food production to all.

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The Hindu, 15 April, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/necessary-steps-to-ending-poverty/article26836894.ece?homepage=true

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