Mission Freedom from Poverty

The Asian Age.  | Dhruva Kumar Singh

India, All India

At present, most of government schemes have been conceived as a social security measures.

A farmer walks past a field as dark clouds hover over Amritsar. It is a harsh reality that the country with the highest growth rate is also home for the largest number of poor on the planet. (Photo: PTI)

Rural distress in general and plight of farmers in particular have been cause for worries since independence. It is a harsh reality that the country with the highest growth rate is also home for the largest number of poor on the planet, given the fact that concerted efforts are also being made in this direction.

With the fiscal space available, and supportive framework of the country in place, there is need for charting a road map of complete eradication of poverty in India. Sustenance Development Goal of UN also talks about the world free from poverty by year 2030.

The first issue is the financial implication of such an enormous exercise. As per Budget Speech (2017-18) of Union finance minister, the govt plans to take 1 crore household out of poverty by FY 2018-19 by spending Rs 3 lakh crore in rural areas every year. On this scale, the cost of poverty eradication from India appears to be Rs 45 lakh crore. Such an enormous expenditure of Rs 45 lakh crore has to be done in an efficient and effective manner. This is really challenging given the fact that there are involvement of multiple agencies: Central Government, state government and local administration and other agencies and there are a hoard of issues to deal with; often interconnected ones, having direct and indirect impact on poverty eradication.

So far, approach towards poverty alleviation has been minimalist . Over the years, the poor has been categorised on the basis of lack of minimum income or deprivation from certain basic means. The World Bank initially has set global poverty line to $1 per day which was revised to $1.25 per day and $1.90 per day subsequently. In the SECC, 2011 (Socio Economic Caste Census , 2011) the issue of poverty line has been done away with. It is a new approach which uses a matrix of deprivation to identify poor though it does not uses word poor or poverty itself.

There is nothing wrong in identification of poor on the basis of minimalistic approach. But approach towards poverty eradication has to be maximalist. Maximalist approach calls upon certain basic essentials. Firstly, a household identified as poor must be linked with maximum avenues of income generation. For example, a marginal farmer practising organic farming along with animal husbandry reaping the benefits of market economy in a successful manner can be a given as illustration. Secondly, the income from all means should grow annually and the growth rate should be maximum possible such as 25-30% etc. It cannot be placid single digit growth rate. To me, poverty eradication is akin to the launch of a rocket. Since pull factor is very strong, maximum energy is consumed in the early stage only.

At present, most of government schemes have been conceived as a social security measures. Consequently, provision of only a reasonable minimum income is considered a desired objective. That there should be annual appreciation in the income is often lost sight of. For example, even in MGNREGA annual revision in wage rate fixed for each state /UT cannot be considered annual appreciation in income; linking wage rate with CPIAL, only secures wages against inflation. Thirdly, there should be surety and continuity of income.

Desirable growth rate of income of poor should be sustained for at least a decade. A large number of people coming out of poverty fall back into morass of poverty due to a number of factors such as various kinds of diseases, failure of corps, unsustainability of loans etc. For surety and continuity of income, role of sate is vital in the form of institutional support such as integration of large informal sector with state supported insurance, strengthening of public healthcare, etc.

Beneficiary has always been focus of all poverty alleviation programmes. But for greater value for money and faster outcome, approach should be area based. The notion of area based approach has never been a dominant one in any programmes. Area based approach seeks for change in the perspective with regard to poverty eradication programmes.

First of all, it calls for scientific assessment of all resources by all means, including through use of satellites. It requires integration of all web-based information. Presently, most of the schemes have their own websites, but they are not interlinked in the sense there is no free flow of information from one web portal to another. Many scheme web sites provide incomplete information. Some of the schemes show near real time data, others may not. Moreover, integration is easier said than done as it calls for integration of not only all departments of the government of india, but eventually of departments of state government too.

The benefit of area based approach can never be exaggerated. It can be used for giving primacy to a particular type of activity related with animal husbandry, fishery, agro processing etc.

Horticulture works in Nashik is an imperfect example of area based approach.

Yet in Nashik, a large number of farmers adopt scientific approach towards high value horticulture. Some of them are able to meet not only domestic demand but they also compete in the international market.

Secondly, problems being faced by poor or deprived section can be delineated and solved following area based approach. In Nashik, which provided the Government of India a backdrop for starting National Horticulture Mission, farmers get access to credit at highly differential rate. Sometimes, the same farmer gets credit from two institutions for same or similar works at two highly differential rates. Thirdly, area based approach through rightful intervention seeks integration of the poor with the market as producers or services providers or likes.

Moreover, inherent strengths and weaknesses of Government sector, private sector, public-private partnership model, NGO etc. in the execution of public programmes are well known. It may not be incongruous to state that formation of producers or service providers company or federation working for profit has not got due attention till date.

In this model, a poor may interact at several levels such as producer, as service providers as shareholders etc. The model call upon mixing business with welfare. A part of the profits are ploughed back and invested in the form of capacity building, skill up gradation, sharing of know how etc. By nature, departments of government of india or state government work in rather isolated manner despite overarching framework of monitoring ,i.e Niti Ayog, cabinet secretariat, PMO etc. Consequently, the concept of linking progress of one scheme with that of another, especially in social sector, never matured. Interlinking of progress under various schemes identified and formulated for poverty alleviation is sine qua non for timely execution of Poverty Eradication Mission.

In sum, complete eradication of poverty in a mission mode with proper assessment of resources and a comprehensive re-look of strategy is a need of the hour.

The writer works in the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare. The views expressed are personal. Email: dhruvaemail@gmail.com.