Don’t read between Lines

THE NATIONAL Sample Survey carries out a full poverty survey once in 5-6 years. In between, it also carries out mini-surveys with a thin sample. The value of mini-surveys is disputed by economists, but these are the only sources of poverty data for the years between the big surveys.

Leftist critics have long claimed, on the basis of the mini-surveys, that poverty, reached its lowest level in 1988-90 and then rose—A similar conclusion was reached by the original mid-term review of the Eighth Plan. It showed the poverty ratio at 39 per cent in 1988-89, falling to a low of 34.3 per cent in 1989-80, and then rising in stages to 40.7 per cent in 1992-93. In sum, this showed a trend of poverty deepening. But going ahead one year further to 1993-94, the ISI study reveals a ratio of 33.47 per cent, which is the lowest poverty rate ever. So in one go, this reverses the trend from negative to positive.

The vast majority (73 per cent) of the population in India is still rural. So what really matters is the state of rural poverty. The mini-surveys suggested that-—this, reached a

low of 33.7 percent in 1989-90, followed by a rise to over 37 per cent.The ISI study suggests that the rural ratio fell to an all-time low of 33.35 percent 1993-94.

This is good news on the face of it, but needs to be reconciled with an earlier Planning Commission estimate of 37.27 per cent for the same year. The difference is enormous. Too much must not be read into these trends. Much of the period was pro-reform, and reforms take time to make an impact.

At most the new data show that the reforms did not worsen ‘the earlier trend of decline in poverty.

(in percentage)
1987-88 88-89 89-90 90-91 91-92 92-93 93-94
RURAL 39.09(39.54) 39.2 33.7 35.0 40.0 41.7 37.27(33.35)
URBAN 38.20(40.32) 38.4 36.0 37.0 37.6 37.8 32.36(33.84)
ALL-INDIA 38.86(39.72) 39.0 34.3 35.3 39.4 40.7 35.97(33.47)

What do you think?