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How is the poverty line measured?

September 26th, 2011 No comments

Last week, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court updating the official poverty line to Rs 965 per month in urban areas and Rs 781 in rural areas. This works out to Rs 32 and and Rs 26 per day, respectively. The perceived inadequacy of these figures has led to widespread discussion and criticism in the media. In light of the controversy, it may be worth looking at where the numbers come from in the first place.

Two Measures of the BPL Population

The official poverty line is determined by the Planning Commission, on the basis of data provided by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). NSSO data is based on a survey of consumer expenditure which takes place every five years.  The most recent Planning Commission poverty estimates are for the year 2004-05.

In addition to Planning Commission efforts to determine the poverty line, the Ministry of Rural Development has conducted a BPL Census in 1992, 1997, 2002, and 2011 to identify poor households. The BPL Census is used to target families for assistance through various schemes of the central government. The 2011 BPL Census is being conducted along with a caste census, and is dubbed the Socio-Economic & Caste Census (SECC) 2011. Details on the methodology of SECC 2011 are available in this short Ministry of Rural Development circular.

Planning Commission Methodology

Rural and urban poverty lines were first defined in 1973-74 in terms of Per Capita Total Expenditure (PCTE). Consumption is measured in terms of a collection of goods and services known as reference Poverty Line Baskets (PLB). These PLB were determined separately for urban and rural areas and based on a per-day calorie intake of 2400 (rural) and 2100 (urban), each containing items such as food, clothing, fuel, rent, conveyance and entertainment, among others. The official poverty line is the national average expenditure per person incurred to obtain the goods in the PLB. Since 1973-74, prices for goods in the PLB have been periodically adjusted over time and across states to deduce the official poverty line.

Uniform Reference Period (URP) vs Mixed Reference Period (MRP)

Until 1993-94, consumption information collected by the NSSO was based on the Uniform Reference Period (URP), which measured consumption across a 30-day recall period. That is, survey respondents were asked about their consumption  in the previous 30 days. From 1999-2000 onwards, the NSSO switched to a method known as the Mixed Reference Period (MRP). The MRP measures consumption of five low-frequency items (clothing, footwear, durables, education and institutional health expenditure) over the previous year, and all other items over the previous 30 days. That is to say, for the five items, survey respondents are asked about consumption in the previous one year. For the remaining items, they are asked about consumption in the previous 30 days.

Tendulkar Committee Report

In 2009, the Tendulkar Committee Report suggested several changes to the way poverty is measured.  First, it recommended a shift away from basing the PLB in caloric intake and towards target nutritional outcomes instead. Second, it recommended that a uniform PLB be used for both rural and urban areas. In addition, it recommended a change in the way prices are adjusted, and called for an explicit provision in the PLB to account for private expenditure in health and education. For these reasons, the Tendulkar estimate of poverty for the years 1993-94 and 2004-05 is higher than the official estimate, regardless of whether one looks at URP or MRP figures. For example, while the official 1993-94 All-India poverty figure is 36% (URP), applying the Tendulkar methodology yields a rate of 45.3%. Similarly, the official 2004-05 poverty rate is 21.8% (MRP) or 27.5% (URP), while applying the the Tendulkar methodology brings the number to 37.2%.

A Planning Commission table of poverty rates by state comparing the two methodologies by is available here.

 

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Parliament and the Lok Pal Agitiation

September 26th, 2011 1 comment

The following piece by C V Madhukar appeared in the September,2011 issue of Governance Now magazine.

The debate in Parliament in response to the recent Anna Hazare led agitation demanding a strong Lok Pal Bill was a fine hour for the institution of Parliament.  What was even more important about the debate is that it was watched by thousands of people across the country many of whom have lost faith in the ability of our MPs to coherently articulate their point of view on substantive issues. Of course, in many cases some of these impressions about our MPs are largely formed by what the media channels tend to project, and without a full appreciation of what actually happens in Parliament.  There is now a greater awareness about an important institutional mechanism called the standing committee, and other nuances about the law making process.

The Lok Pal agitation brought out another important aspect of our democracy.  There are still many in India who believe that peaceful protest is a powerful way to communicate the expectations of people to the government. Our elected representatives are prepared to respond collectively when such protests are held.  There is a negotiated settlement possible between the agitating citizens and our political establishment within the broad construct of our Constitution.  All of this means that the safety valves in our democracy are still somewhat functional, despite its many shortcomings.

But the way the whole Lok Pal episode has played out so far raises a number of important questions about the functioning of our political parties and our Parliamentary system.  A fundamental question is the extent to which our elected MPs are able to ‘represent’ the concerns of the people in Parliament.  It has been obvious for some time now, that corruption at various levels has been a concern for many.  For months before the showdown in August, there have been public expressions of the disenchantment of the people about this problem.  Even though several MPs would say privately that it is time for them to do something about it as elected representatives, they were unable to come together in a way to show the people that they were serious about the issue, or that they could collectively do something significant about the problem.  The government was trying in its own way to grapple with the problem, and was unable to seize the initiative, expect for a last minute effort to find a graceful way out of the immediate problem on hand.

In our governance system as outlined in our Constitution, the primary and most important institution to hold the government accountable is the Parliament.  To perform this role, the Parliament has a number of institutional mechanisms that have evolved over the years.  The creation of the CAG as a Constitutional body that provides inputs to Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, the question hour in Parliament are some of the ways in which the government is held to account.  Clearly all of these mechanisms together are unable to adequately do the work of overseeing the government that our MPs have been tasked with.  But it is one thing for our MPs to be effective in their role holding the government to account, and a very different thing to come across collectively as being responsive to the concerns of the people.

For our MPs to play their representation role more convincingly and meaningfully there are certain issues that need to be addressed.  A major concern is about how our political parties are structured, where MPs are bound by tight party discipline. In a system where the party leadership decides who gets the party ticket to contest the next election, there is a natural incentive for MPs to toe the party line, even within their party forums.  This is often at the cost of their personal conviction about certain issues, and may sometimes be against what the citizens could want their representatives to do. Add to this the party whip system, under which each MP has to vote along the party line or face the risk of losing his seat in Parliament.  And then of course, if some MP decides to take a stand on some issue, he needs to do all the research work on his own because our elected representatives have no staff with this capability.  This deadly cocktail of negative incentives, just makes it very easy for the MP to mostly just follow the party line.  If the representation function were to be taken somewhat seriously, these issues need to be addressed.

The 2004 World Development Report of the World Bank was focussed on accountability.  An important idea in the report was that it was too costly and inefficient for people to vote a government in and wait till the next election to hold the government accountable by voting it out for the poor governance it provides.  That is the reason it is essential for governments and citizens to develop ways in which processes can be developed by which the government can be held accountable even during its tenure.

The myriad efforts by government such as social audits, monitoring and evaluation efforts within government departments, efforts by Parliament to hold the government accountable, efforts of civil society groups, are all ways of holding the government to account.  But over and above accountability, in an age of growing aspirations and increasing transparency, our MPs must find new ways of asserting their views and those people that they seek to represent in our Parliament.  This is an age which expects our politicians to be responsive, but in a responsible way.

Even as the Lok Pal Bill is being deliberated upon in the standing committee, civil society groups continue to watch how MPs will come out on this Bill.  There are plenty of other opportunities where MPs and Parliament can take the initiative, including electoral reforms, funding of elections, black money, etc.  It remains to be seen whether our MPs will lead on these issues from the front, or will choose to be led by others. This will determine whether in the perception of the public the collective stock of our MPs will rise or continue to deplete in the months ahead.

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Parliamentary Privilege FAQs

September 1st, 2011 7 comments

We wrote an FAQ on Parliamentary Privilege for IBN Live. See http://ibnlive.in.com/news/what-puri-bedi-are-guilty-of-parl-privilege-faqs/179977-37.html

The full text is reproduced below.

Several MPs have given breach of privilege notices against actor Om Puri and ex-policewoman Kiran Bedi for using “derogatory and defamatory” language against Members of Parliament. In light of this, we explain the concept of breach of privilege and contempt of Parliament.

What is parliamentary privilege?

Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunities enjoyed by Parliament as an institution and MPs in their individual capacity, without which they cannot discharge their functions as entrusted upon them by the Constitution.

Are these parliamentary privileges defined under law?

According to the Constitution, the powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and MP’s are to be defined by Parliament. No law has so far been enacted in this respect. In the absence of any such law, it continues to be governed by British Parliamentary conventions.

What is breach of privilege?

A breach of privilege is a violation of any of the privileges of MPs/Parliament. Among other things, any action ‘casting reflections’ on MPs, parliament or its committees; could be considered breach of privilege. This may include publishing of news items, editorials or statements made in newspaper/magazine/TV interviews or in public speeches.

Have there been earlier cases of breach of privilege?

There have been several such cases. In 1967, two people were held to be in contempt of Rajya Sabha, for having thrown leaflets from the visitors’ gallery.

In 1983, one person was held in breach for shouting slogans and throwing chappals from the visitors’ gallery.

What is the punishment in case of breach of privilege or contempt of the House?

The house can ensure attendance of the offending person. The person can be given a warning and let go or be sent to prison as the case may be.

In the case of throwing leaflets and chappal, the offending individuals were sentenced to simple imprisonment.

In the 2007 case of breach of privilege against Ambassador Ronen Sen, the Lok Sabha Committee on privileges held that the phrase “headless chicken” was not used by Shri Sen in respect of MPs or politicians. No action was taken against him.

In 2008, an editor of an Urdu weekly referred to the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha as a “coward” attributing motives to a decision taken by him. The privileges committee held the editor guilty of breach of privilege. The committee instead of recommending punishment stated that, “it would be better if the House saves its own dignity by not giving undue importance to such irresponsible articles published with the sole intention of gaining cheap publicity.”