NEW DELHI: In what could provide a radical boost to UPA’s aam aadmi agenda but also pose a mind-boggling fiscal challenge, a government panel has recommended that 50% of India’s population be given below-poverty-line cards.
The recommendations of the rural development ministry’s committee on BPL surveys, chaired by Supreme Court-appointed food commissioner N C Saxena, seek to double the population that benefits from the UPA’s social sector schemes — both existing as well as those on the anvil like the ambitious Food Security Act and enhanced pension schemes. The expansion of the social security net is bound to substantially increase government expenditure.
At present, the Planning Commission estimates that only 28.3% of the population qualifies for BPL benefits.
While the recommendations of the Saxena committee are not binding, the former bureaucrat, who was also on the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, has emerged as a powerful voice on food policy. The government may also be compelled to take a close look at his estimates because they are close to the tally compiled by states under the rural development survey.
States reject plan panel’s BPL figures
The states have, however, disregarded the BPL figures prepared by the Planning Commission, to prepare their own list of BPL benficiaries.
The rural development ministry conducts a survey along with the states every five years to identify the poor, while the Planning Commission gives an overall percentage for the number of poor in a state.
The mismatch between the two, with Planning Commission progressively lowering poverty estimates while the states push higher numbers, has always been a source of controversy. The Centre allocates resources for BPL schemes based on the figures of the Planning Commission, raising the hackles of the states. With the government set to increase the allocation for the BPL schemes, the conflict can escalate, with a very strong possibility of states pressing of the Saxena formula.
The rural development ministry had set up the Saxena committee to review the methodology of the survey and resolve the conflict between the plan panel estimate and the survey enumeration. The report would be made public on Tuesday.
In order to reconcile the plan panel estimates with the rural development surveys, the Saxena committee has suggested a change in the way Planning Commission works out its numbers. The Commission used the poverty lines of 1973-1974 to arrive at its latest figures in 2004 after adjusting for inflation.