Reducing poverty

India’s first multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI), created under the aegis of the NITI Aayog, did not contain major surprises with Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh figuring as India’s poorest states. But it is a useful exercise for policymakers and non-governmental organisations to gauge the well-being of Indians on a wider set of indicators other than income, a point that the UN has been making since 2010. India’s first MPI has, in fact, been created with that objective in mind. It is based on the fourth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for 2015-16, b.....
India’s first multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI), created under the aegis of the NITI Aayog, did not contain major surprises with Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh figuring as India’s poorest states. But it is a useful exercise for policymakers and non-governmental organisations to gauge the well-being of Indians on a wider set of indicators other than income, a point that the UN has been making since 2010. India’s first MPI has, in fact, been created with that objective in mind. It is based on the fourth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for 2015-16, before the Modi government’s mega-schemes — such as Swachh Bharat, Ujjwala Yojana, Swajal, and so on — were implemented and is intended to serve as a baseline report for the achievements of those schemes.

Some questions have arisen over methodology. For instance, the report reveals that 25 per cent of Indians are multi-dimensionally poor. Interestingly, this is nearly three percentage points lower than the UN survey, though the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is one of the partners in developing the Indian index, state governments and Oxford University’s Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative being the others. The Indian MPI mostly mirrors the UN’s dimensions of poverty under the broad rubrics of health, education, and the standard of living with the weighting of one-third ascribed to each. The discrepancy in the Indian and UN indices could be partially on account of two additional indicators under health and the standard of living in the Indian index — ante-natal care and bank accounts, respectively — where some notable progress has been made.

The NITI Aayog plans to publish another report in five or six months once the household level micro-data is released for the recently published NFHS-5 survey, which covers 2019-21 to offer a fuller picture of socio-economic progress over a five-year period. Preliminary estimates on some key indicators available from NFHS-5 show significant improvements in access to electricity, sanitation, drinking water, especially in states recording high multi-dimensional poverty. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of this data, but it should be acknowledged that reducing multi-dimensional poverty in a country as diverse as India is a long-term process. Though schemes and programmes rather than steady policy continuity — such as in family planning or the highway-building programmes — have become the Indian government’s chosen strategy for delivering socio-economic progress, the real test of success in reducing multi-dimensional poverty lies in its sustainability.

 
The abrupt waning of the cooking gas scheme, Ujjwala, is a pointer to the problems associated with this route. With “har ghar me nal” (a tap in every home) the slogan for the drinking-water scheme, the bigger challenge lies in ensuring that the taps, which are easily installed in households, do not run dry because of a rapidly falling water table in parts of India. Similarly, the target of electrifying all households, while admirable, demands the provision of 24x7, good-quality power, something that has long eluded India owing to politically determined and inefficient pricing policies. Providing these amenities free is likely to exacerbate the shortages. Addressing these structural issues entails the hard part of policy-making, demanding some amount of courageous bullet-biting that surveys will capture only after a considerable period.

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