Q. The high incidence of poverty combined with multiple deprivations among poor is the most important development challenge for India. Discuss.
• Briefly introduce with the changing concept poverty in India.
• Mention the status of poverty and associated multiple deprivations in India.
• Discuss how this is a development challenge for India.
• Highlight the steps taken by the government to address these issues.
The incidence of poverty has remained a major challenge for India. The conventional methods of poverty estimation focus on parameters such as income levels or calorie-consumption level. However, there are other various parameters which contribute to an individual’s deprivation. In this context, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) was introduced to capture a comprehensive picture of acute poverty. According to the MPI 2018, India has lifted more than 271 million people out of poverty between 2005-06 to 2015-16. Despite this, 373 million Indians continue to experience acute deprivations, which include:
• Accessibility to healthcare: Currently, out-of-pocket expenditure constitutes 62 per cent of the healthcare spending of families in the country – sometimes forcing families to incur catastrophic expenditure and pushing them below poverty line.
• Sanitation: Despite achieving success under Swachh Bharat Mission, there are issues such as existence of manual scavenging, water availability for toilets etc.
• Safe drinking water: Only 48.6 percent of the rural households have exclusive access to the principal source of drinking water, which results in water and food borne diseases.
• Hunger and nutritional status: In India, around 47 million people are stunted, 25 million people are wasted, and 196 million suffer from chronic hunger.
• Access to education: Despite improvements in gross enrollment rate, years of schooling, there are issues of high dropouts, poor learning outcomes, private sector dependence.
• Electricity coverage: Despite achieving 100% village electrification in rural areas, around 31 million households are yet to get power supply.
These deprivations become a developmental challenge for India in the following ways:
• Intergenerational transmission of poverty: The next generation of most poor households are also poor. In fact, the intensity and distress is greater and they also have restricted access to resources such as land, forest and water.
• Strain on state capacity: This is manifested in the increasing need of subsidies, public infrastructure and investments for welfare of people. The most pressing example could be seen in the recent logistic challenges faced by the state during the outbreak of COVID 19 in India.
• Marginalization of vulnerable groups: Poverty and deprivation strike hardest on vulnerable groups such as women, STs, SCs, differently abled etc. They face multiple deprivations such as lack of access to basic amenities, low pay and social discrimination.
• Endangering India’s demographic advantage: Lack of proper nutrition, quality education and skill development result in poor human resources. Poverty and associated deprivations reduce the productive capacity of the individuals and access of high wage employment.
• Distress migration: High rural poverty and unemployment lead to a heavy influx of rural migrants in urban areas. It leads to growth of slums and homelessness causing acute problems of civic amenities and facilities.
• Informalisation of workforce: As poverty leads to lack of education and skill, it often forces the people to work in the informal sector, leading to lack of social security and restricting their ability to bring them out of poverty.
• Social unrest: Poverty affects the employability of youth, making them vulnerable to indulging in criminal activities. This leads to social unrest which impacts the life of the poor the most.
The government introduced several programmes and schemes to address these challenges. Some of these include Housing For All by 2022, Ayushman Bharat, Integrated Child Development Scheme, Deen Dayal Upadyaya Antoyodyaya Yojana etc. However, there is a need to address the gap between policy formulation and its implementation.
The government can explore further options such as minimum basic income, social stock exchange, expansion of aspirational districts programme.