Rural India, poverty alleviation a great challenge
Manzoor A. Naik
The problem of poverty is considered as the biggest challenge to development planning in India. High poverty levels are synonymous with poor quality of life, deprivation, malnutrition, illiteracy and low human resource development. Poverty can be defined as a social phenomenon in which a section of the society is unable to fulfill even its basic necessities of life. At the beginning of the new millennium, 260 million people in India did not have incomes to access a consumption basket which defines the poverty line. Of these, 75 per cent belonged to the rural areas. India is home to 22 percent of the worlds poor. Such a high incidence of poverty is a matter of concern in view of the fact that poverty eradication has been one of the major objectives of the development planning process. One historical reason of this high percentage of poverty is the low level of economic development under the British colonial administration. The policies of the colonial government ruined traditional handicrafts and discouraged development of industries like textiles. The low rate of growth persisted until the nineteen eighties. This resulted in less job opportunities and low growth rate of incomes. This was accompanied by a high growth rate of population. The two combined to make the growth rate of per capita income very low.
The failure at both the fronts: promotion of economic growth and population control perpetuated the cycle of poverty. Many other socio-cultural and economic factors also are responsible for poverty. In order to fulfil social obligations and observe religious ceremonies, people in India, including the very poor, spend a lot of money. Small farmers need money to buy agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizer, pesticides etc. Since poor people hardly have any savings, they borrow. Unable to repay because of poverty, they become victims of indebtedness. So the high level of indebtedness is both the cause and effect of poverty. Indeed, poverty is a global issue. Its eradication is considered integral to humanity’s quest for sustainable development. India has made tremendous progress in reducing absolute poverty in the past two decades. The standard way to determine whether a household is poor is to compare its daily expenditure per capita to a minimum consumption threshold, or poverty line. Based on India’s official line, the share of the population living in poverty was halved between 1994 and 2012, falling from 45 per cent to 22 per cent. During this period, an astonishing 133 million people were lifted out of poverty. Moreover, the pace of poverty reduction accelerated over time and was three times faster between 2005 and 2012. Before feeling too good about the drop in BPL, it would be as well to remember that 26 crore is very large number. Reduction of poverty in India is, therefore, vital for the attainment of international goals. Agricultural wage earners, small and marginal farmers and casual workers engaged in non-agricultural activities, constitute the bulk of the rural poor. Poor educational base and lack of other vocational skills also perpetuate poverty. The creation of employment opportunities for the unskilled workforce has been a major challenge for development planners and administrators. There are two basic pre-requisiters of a poverty eradication programmes. Firstly, reorientation of the agricultural relations so that the ownership of land is shared by a larger section of the people. Secondly, no programme of removal of poverty can succeed in an economy plagued by inflation and spiralling rise of price. A poverty eradication programme, therefore, must mop up the surplus with the elite classes. These two pre-requisites a strong political will in the national leadership to implement the much needed structural reforms. Besides, the government must aim at a strategy for the development of the social sector of which the key component should be population control, universal primary education, family welfare and job creation especially in rural areas. These and the other aspects of poverty alleviation have not given any importance so far in our planning, though we have always thought that poverty can be removed through economic development. Central and state governments have considerably enhanced allocations for the provision of education, health, sanitation and other facilities which promote capacity-building and well-being of the poor. Special programs have been taken up for the welfare of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), the disabled and other vulnerable groups. There are so many schemes launched by our government to affect poverty directly or indirectly, some of them are worth mentioning; National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) 2005 was passed in September 2005. The Act provides 100 days assured employment every year to every rural household in 200 districts. Later, the scheme was extended to 600 districts. One third of the proposed jobs are reserved for women. The central government also established National Employment Guarantee Funds. Similarly, state governments too established State Employment Guarantee Funds for implementation of the scheme. Under this programme, if an applicant is not provided employment within fifteen days she/he will be entitled to a daily unemployment allowance. Another important scheme has been the National Food For Work Programme (NFWP), which was launched in 2004 in 150 most backward districts of the country. The programme was open to all rural poor who were in need of wage employment and desire to do manual unskilled work. It is implemented as a 100 per cent centrally sponsored scheme and foodgrains are provided free of cost. Pardhan Mantri Rozgar Yojana (PMRY) is another scheme which was started in 1993.
The aim of the programme was to create self-employment opportunities for educated unemployed youth in rural areas and small towns. They are helped in setting up small business and industries. The aim of the programme is to create self employment opportunities in rural areas and small towns. Another important scheme for the alleviation of poverty in India is Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojna (SGSY) which was was launched in 1999. The programme aims at bringing the assisted poor families above the poverty line by organising them into self help groups through a mix of bank credit and government subsidy. Under the Pardhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana (PMGY)launched in 2000, additional central assistance is given to states for basic services such as primary health, primary education, rural shelter, rural drinking water and rural electrification. Another important scheme is Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) which is meant for poorest of the poors in India. The results of these programmes have been mixed. One of the major reasons for less effectiveness for all such poverty alleviation schemes is the lack of proper implementation and right targeting. Moreover, there has been a lot of overlapping of schemes. Despite good intentions, the benefits of these schemes are not fully reached to the deserving poor. Therefore, the major emphasis in recent years is on proper monitoring of all the poverty alleviation programmes. Poverty has certainly declined in India. But despite the progress, poverty reduction remains India’s most compelling challenge. Wide disparities in poverty are visible between rural and urban areas and among different states. Certain social and economic groups are more vulnerable to poverty. Poverty reduction is expected to make better progress in the next ten to fifteen years. This would be possible mainly due to higher economic growth, increasing stress on universal free elementary education, declining population growth, increasing empowerment of the women
and the economically weaker sections of