Saying things about India with certainty is a difficult task. If we say that India is a poor country but there are people in this country who are richer than the richest in the world. If we say that India is an underdeveloped country but that can’t be said about the entire country, there are regions and cities which are as developed as any other modern city in the world. And, if we say that India is well off than most of the underdeveloped and the developing countries of the world, here again, there are regions in the country which are like the poorest of the poor.
Anyway, one thing must be conceded that the country has made great strides of progress and development in diverse fields of life and one of the important ones is her economy. India according to the incumbent Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, is all set to become the 5th largest economy of the world in 2019. This is not a meagre accomplishment for a country which has remained under colonial rule for many centuries altogether.
On account of this achievement, she is respected and honoured the world over and has acquired a very important position in many global and international institutions. The country and people of the country can feel content about this economic growth and development.
But, what is the problem area is that the uneven and differential grew of different regions. Some regions have developed much faster than the others, some have grown very slowly and the rest seem to have not grown at all. As such, many people and regions have missed the development trajectory completely that the rest of the country has followed. These people, and regions, are still languishing at the places where they were at the outset, or at the time of the independence of the country.
Improvements in human development indices and an increase in per capita income, better living standards and availability of modern facilities and services have all missed these people. They still live from hand to mouth in extreme poverty. Many face frequent hunger and many others are homeless and spend their life under the open sky. In short, their life and conditions of life are harsh and painful to say the least, for them the dawn of the independence has not dawned.
Coming to the number of such people, even after much decrease the number stands greater than the collective population of the many small countries of the world. According to the Brooking Institution report generated by the estimates of the World Poverty Clock, India by the middle of 2018 had 70.6 million people living in extreme poverty. Though there is an improvement and India is no longer the country with the highest number people living in extreme poverty, the number one country with such people is now Nigeria with a number of 87 million but the number that India has is no small number. This number should have been reduced much more by now but somehow not much is being done towards that end.
Much has been said about the number of poor people in India, much more has been said about the plight of such people. It is conceded that the governments at the federal and state levels have initiated and implemented umpteen policies and programs to deal with poverty and reduce the number of poor in the country. But, poverty refuses to go and the plight of the poor refuses to ease out. Hence, what is lacking, it is not the talks, and schemes, but the action. By action it is meant the real action where what is said is converted into the action and what is acted is exactly like what is being talked about.
It is reiterated that the governments that are ruling at the Central and State levels have formulated enough programs and schemes. These schemes and programs mean talks and instructions but it is observed at the implementation stage that the action is not as per the guidelines contained in the schemes and programs. Deliberately or otherwise the target population fails to receive the benefits of the policies and the programs of the government.
Even the steps that are initiated by the governments to plug the loopholes and leakages are not giving the results as per the desired scheme. Those who are hell bent to sabotage the government schemes and programs from achieving their objectives find other ways of sabotage. This they do in connivance with few government authorities and functionaries or otherwise also. They indulge in such practices because the poverty of people is profitable for them and what is not profitable for them is the prosperity of the poor.
Besides plugging the loopholes and leakages from the government schemes the best way to treat poverty in India is break this link where the poverty and destitution of people is profitable for the rest. As for example, a simple step can go a long way in improving things for the poor. A poor man is forced to pay whatever is charged from him by a shopkeeper in absence of money, sometimes the cost goes as high as twice or thrice that of the actual cost. Therefore, if assistance is made in favor of the poor the major chunk of it goes in paying the costs which are simple unfair and overcharged.
Government funds eventually get transferred into the coffers of the rich without ideally benefiting the poor and improving the conditions of the poor.
So, it is not only the direct cash transfer but also timely cash transfer that could help the poor. Plus, it is not an only timely transfer of cash but before that, the black marketing and blackmail by marketing with the poor should be stopped. These seem minor things but if we go down to the level of the poor these are big things which could go a long way in raising the level of these people to the above poverty line. Else we are forcing these people to live sub human existence at the subsistence level.
All the social welfare schemes have such drawbacks and limitations that are exploited by the exploiters or fail to provide the desired relief. Direct transfer of gas subsidy in light of the increasing fuel prices is becoming a big joke. A gas cylinder now costs over rupees one thousand and after subsidy, the cost still remains six or seven hundred rupees depending upon the extent of subsidy which the masses are unaware about how it is calculated.
Anyhow a customer has to arrange over thousand rupees to buy a gas cylinder which not all afford. Here the scheme needs improvement where the distributors could be directed to sell gas to the selected poor, or those just above the poverty line, at rates after deducting the subsidy component. The rest they can pay once the subsidy is deposited in their accounts of the beneficiary.
Providing only free or subsidized rations to the healthy and able bodied poor is not a good way of raising the standard of the poor. Instead, facilities and avenues should be created for them so that they could get out of the net of the extreme poverty. Our aim should be to end poverty and not to manage poverty but unfortunately, we are more of managing it and less of curing it. Curing poverty needs enough of opportunities to the poor with the active support of the government. It also includes ending exploitation and discrimination of the poor.
Again, it can be said that some progress has been made in improving the condition of poor and reducing the number of poor. But, still more is yet to be done. There is not much of the need to initiate new programs and schemes but rather the purpose can be met by plugging the gaps of the existent schemes and making the benefits of the social welfare schemes available to the poor and available more conveniently to them.
The government should be aware, which is expected it is that satisfaction in reducing the number of poor by setting only a reference line is not enough. Rather, it should know how much enough is enough in the current circumstance of the market economy. Dealing with poverty should mean also taking care of the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Else the poor who cease to be poor by our standards might again end up being classified as poor by the global standards if they are revised anytime soon.