Mata Hurry writes from New Delhi: If you wish to study macroeconomic policy and macroplanning, forget about studying at the leading universities, the Ivy Leagues and the business schools of the world. Why bother to study the economic theories expounded by John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman? Observe India’s planners and policy wonks and read their turgid reports. Their most recent pronouncements about poverty levels will be infinitely more enlightening.
According to the policy mavens from the premier government think tank called the Planning Commission, you can survive on Rs. 28.65 (US55 cents) a day if you live in cities, and on Rs. 22 (43 cents) if you reside in villages. These startling revelations were made last week in a dramatic announcement from Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
It seems now that unbeknownst to them, millions of Indians aren’t destitute any more. The Planning Commission redefined poverty levels and consequently destitution ratios fell from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 29.8 per cent in 2009-10. Those 40 million who were catapulted from destitution to wealth aren’t even aware that they aren’t poor any more.
You can conjure any figure out of a hat, cook up any figures and demonstrate to the rest of the world that Indians are richer by the hour. Is the hidden agenda of the government to dress up and embellish the figures, sex up the country’s image overseas and attract foreign investment from multinational corporations in droves?
Six months ago in October 2011 the same panel declared with supreme confidence that the poverty line was Rs 32 per day in urban and Rs 26 in rural areas. Howls of rage followed the release of those absurd figures.
The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who trotted out these latest figures was hauled over the coals for these newly revised preposterous numbers. He then defended himself by dishing out some gobbledygook referring to discrepancies between statistical data gathered for consumption surveys and national accounts.
Is it any surprise that the wisenheimer Mr. Ahluwalia honed his planning and economics skills at both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank? His predictions and forecasts on economic growth and inflation have proved consistently wrong in the past, so why should anyone believe him this time around?
When was the last time you bought groceries Mr. Ahluwalia? Inflation is soaring once again and is eroding purchasing power. The middle class is getting poor and the poor are desperately impoverished.
Twenty eight rupees does not give you much bang for the depreciating currency today. You could buy 6 lemons for instance. Ingesting lemons will give you zero calories, leave you famished and faint within hours of consumption. And you would not have any spare change for transport to commute to work.
A kilo of wheat flour would set you back Rs 20. But there won’t be any cooking gas or electricity to make ‘chapattis’ or bread with the flour. With the balance of Rs 8 you could travel a distance of 4 kilometers but you had better sleep on the streets and remain stranded overnight at your destination. You won’t have money to return home. But of course you don’t have a home nor do you need one, according to our gifted, incompetent planners.
And if you fall ill, you should have the common sense and decency to die on the street because you won’t have the wherewithal to travel to a state-funded hospital which will be located several kilometers away. The bus journey itself could cost you between 10 and 25 rupees depending on the distance travelled.
Twenty eight rupees could purchase 4 or 5 anaemic soggy-looking bananas or tomatoes or a wilting cauliflower. Try purchasing a litre of milk with this magical figure. Since governments want their poor citizens to be malnourished, the price of milk is always beyond the poor man’s budget. How dare the destitute demand such luxuries as milk, eggs or even fish?
So if you have Rs. 29.50 in your pocket, consider yourself fortunate and wealthy. Just scavenge the rubbish heaps and build yourself a shack made of cardboard and string and live and die on the streets.
Who believes the preposterous balderdash the Planning Commission dishes out? The next report will probably be entitled “Wine Line.” And Montek will probably advise you to order that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from your iPad too. Isn’t it time for this hallowed entity to shut down?