Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Poverty in India ...

Yazad Jal's post on poverty in India has over 90 comments, already! And, you know what, I am going to add one more (in addition to what I said here earlier ;-), and it will be to link back to this post...

One of the things that many people have asked for is some hard statistical information about poverty in India. I have collected some here, just for my own future reference. The ones at the top are by academics, and deal with some seriously arcane data; so, be warned! The last two are more accessible, because they appeared in the popular press; they don't contain much data, but present two different views of how to go about tackling this great issue of our times.

  • An early World Bank report, India Poverty Project: Poverty and Growth in India, 1951-94, is a good starting point.
  • Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze: Poverty and Inequality in India: A Reexamination: (EPW, September 2002).

    Now, no one has accused (so far!) Dreze of being a libertarian stooge. So, what do his co-author and he have to say about poverty during the first 10 years of liberalization (1991 - 2000)? They conclude that poverty reduction is "real", and this is so even after adjusting for ambiguities that have crept into the data (due to a change in the methodology used for collecting and reporting them). However, they also point out several disturbing trends: regional imbalance (the south and west doing better than the north and east), wages of agricultural labourers increasing at lower rate than the GDP growth rate (which accentuates economic inequality), etc. The last paragraph is interesting:
  • Finally, we have argued against reading these trends simply as evidence of the impact (positive or negative) of 'liberalization'. For one thing, the impact of liberalization is a 'counterfactual' question, and much depends on how the alternatives are specified. For another, much else has happened in the nineties, other than liberalization. ...
  • Aasha Kapur Mehta and Amita Patel : Chronic Poverty in India: An Overview Study (CPRC Working paper, circa 2002).
  • Angus Deaton and Valerie Kozel Data and Dogma: The Great Indian Poverty Debate (PovertyNet Library, September 2004).
  • Raghbendra Jha: Rural Poverty in India: Structure, Determinants and Suggestions for Policy Reform (ASARC Policy Paper, 2002).
  • Ramesh Ramanathan (yes, he of the Janaagraha and Swades fame): Secong Generation Reforms: Delivery (India Together, July 2004)
  • Jaiprakash Narayan of Loksatta' Financial Express article (August 2004)

Update (12 May 2005) : Neha Viswanathan has a nice post about a development effort that really worked. Needless to say, in addition to anecdotes and statistical information about the incidence of poverty, we also need personal accounts from those on the frontlines of economic development. In other words, we need more such accounts of poverty alleviation efforts that work. Neha promises to write more. Any pointers to others who may also have written about their experiences?


  1. Anonymous said...

    Deaton & Dreze stats also says that while there's a 3% decline in poverty in AP (from 93-94 to 99-00), there's an 8% decline in Bihar over the same period. Now as I understand Lalu wasn't very enthusiastic about liberalization as Naidu was!

    Similar decline in poverty levels was taking place in the pre-90 era too. So attributing the decline to reforms is not very logical, right?

  2. Anonymous said...

    The fundamental issue is the definition of poverty. So in absolute levels the definition keeps changing, and you have statistics being pushed above and below the infamous BPL.

    The decline in levels of vulnerability is real in SOME regions of India, and it is attributed to civil society action, a break from four years of drought and some policy based reforms, however, the case of Bihar is entirely different. Further, watch out for new statistics from Bihar post Jharkhand formation. Per capita incomes will fall yet again, and to counter that the BPL line will be pushed lower still!

    And saar.. thanks for the link! :)

  3. Anonymous said...

    When different economists give you different figures about the decline of poverty (or indeed about anything), what do you do really?

  4. Anonymous said...

    Does the economic betterment of any chohort matter or only that of some cohort? Poverty in India is obscenely real and so are the numerous programmes run by the government to end poverty that have fallen far short of where they were meant to be. It would be interesting to see how people have lifted themselves out of poverty in each region under study. I am not arguing for the presence of some mythical qualities of 'discipline', 'drive' determination etc. Rather by looking at cases of success we can learn what support must be provided and what conditions must be created to help people break out of their wretchedness. Much as it may grate or disgust us, why not look at the cases of farmers who did not commit suicide in AP/Karnataka/Maharashtra? Are those who have survived lucky and those who have not the victims of a cruel and indifferent establishment?