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No poverty cap for food allocation: Montek


New Delhi : The Planning Commission Monday clarified that it was not going by a set poverty line for allocation of subsidised food and supported an approach of giving benefits based on various economic factors.

The plan panel had drawn flak from activists, including from members of the influential Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), for its affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the poverty line for urban areas could be provisionally placed at about Rs.32 per day.

“The allegation is being made that the Planning Commission is trying to understate poverty. This is simply not true,” Ahluwalia told reporters at a joint press conference with Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh in Yojana Bhawan here.

Going by the estimates of the Suresh Tendulkar report, the Planning Commission had in the affidavit before the apex court set the yardstick for measuring poverty at just over Rs.4,800 for a family of five living in urban areas and at about Rs.3,700 for a similar family in rural India.

Ahluwalia, however, said these had been misinterpreted and the Planning Commission never wanted to restrict benefits to a smaller percentage of the population.

“The Planning Commission has never taken the view that the benefits should be restricted to those below this poverty line,” Ahluwalia said, adding that it had in fact supported the idea of widening the beneficiaries base for food allocation.

The NAC had last year recommended that the government discontinue the method of calculating the number of beneficiaries for various subsidies and welfare programmes on the basis of below poverty line (BPL) category and instead award benefits to a priority category.

“The Planning Commission has strongly supported the NAC recommendations in all the inter-ministerial meetings that entitlement should go beyond the poverty line level,” said Ahluwalia.

NAC member Harsh Mander who was among the fiercest critics of the plan panel’s affidavit, said the clarification was a right step but it needed to be seen how it would translate into action.

“We need to have a benchmark as to what is acceptable (level of poverty),” said Mander.

Ramesh, who met Ahluwalia earlier in the day, said at the joint briefing that the government’s welfare programmes were even now largely based on other criteria and did not follow the BPL yardstick for extending benefits.

“We are in the midst of conducting a socio-economic caste census which will generate based on deprivational indicators a rank ordering of households,” said the minister.

Ramesh also added that the Planning Commission and his ministry would set up a joint committee to ensure that “no poor and deprived household that is generated from the census is excluded from government programmes.”

The census is expected to be wrapped up by January 2012.