Offstumped continues further with the expression of thanks to Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to focus this time on the pivotal subject of poverty which the Congress seems determined to tout as its theme for the next election whenever it is held. 

Rahul Gandhi speaking in Parliament articulated for the first time a meaningful idea worthy of public debate. Dwelling on the idea of “Freedom from Poverty”, Rahul Gandhi touted the UPA’s flagship programs with these remarks

“Freedom from poverty is not a matter of charity or luck; it is a right,” … The NREGA delivers employment as a right. The Tribal Act delivers ownership of land as a right. The RTI Act delivers information as a right. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill seeks to deliver basic minimum rights to those being displaced,”

So who exactly is Rahul Gandhi demanding “Freedom from Poverty” for ?

The Rural Ministry has been collecting some excellent data on the Below Poverty Line, BPL Census.

The estimation of poverty at the national and State level is done by the Planning Commission on the basis of the Sample Survey of Consumer Expenditure carried out by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) after an interval of 5 years approximately

So what data is available currently ?

The BPL Census 2002 has been conducted for the 10th Five Year Plan and 21 States and UTs have finalized and furnished the BPL list.

Offstumped has been examining the data to and it makes for an interesting analysis.

First let us consider which states mostly reported data BPL data ?

Only Andhra, Arunachal, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal have 90% or higher reportage of BPL data.

So when Rahul Gandhi is talking about freedom from poverty he has no clue who exactly he is referring to for barring a handful of states the majority do not have detailed data on who exactly is below the poverty line nor do they know what exactly ails them.

For the purpose of this post let us dig deeper into Andhra the largest state ruled independently by the Congress.

Andhra is reporting 27 Lakh families to be below the poverty line. A deeper analysis of the data reveals that the districts reporting most BPL families are not necessarily in the Maoist infested Telangana region as conventional wisdom would suggest. Instead you have West Godavari from the fertile coastal region and Srikakulam along the Orissa border reporting the highest number of BPL families.

Let us further analyse Mahbubnagar, the district with the most poor pegged at about 2.3 lakh families (Mahbubnagar by the way has about 14lakh voters which puts the poor at almost half the electorate in Mahbubnagar).

The BPL data has almost 1.8 lakh families earning less than 500 rupees a month on an average. So how much of an impact did the NREGA have in providing “Freedom from Poverty” to these 1.8lakh families.

The NREGA data for Mahbubnagar reveals that 2.16 BPL families demanded employment during 2006-2007 which compared to the 2.3 lakh figure for BPL families should have the Congress celebrating the success of its “freedom for poverty” initiative

Also the NREGA paid an average minimum wage of about 80 Rs per person day which in a typical month should amount to at least Rs 1600.

But here is the catch.

Only 4086 families or only 1.9% got up to 100 days of employment which was the rationale for the NREGA that seasonal employment cycles cause the poor to be unemployed for about 100 days in a year. The overwhelming majority of the families got merely 25 days of employment during 2006-2007 which means about Rs 160 per month in income from the NREGA.

The data for 2007-2008 shows a marginal improvement with 5.8% of BPL families benefiting from 100 days of employment with the majority getting only around 35 days of employment which means about Rs 233 in monthly income from NREGA.

So here you have the flagship program of the UPA operating in the poorest district of the largest state ruled independently by the Congress barely making a difference as far as freedom from poverty goes. What is worse the number of BPL families according to the NREGA data in Mahbubnagar has gone up from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008. So rather than provide freedom from poverty, the NREGA dole is motivating more families to be classified as a below poverty.

Offstumped Bottomline: There is a capitalist twist to the socialist schemes of the Congress with a  micro-minority of BPL families benefiting disproportionately from the NREGA. So thank you Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh for this freedom from poverty that has the rural poor dependent on the local politicos for about Rs 233 in monthly income a sum by the way they were already earning from other sources before the NREGA came into existence. With more families demanding employment than BPL counts in the census all the NREGA is doing is increasing the number of rural poor.

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