Lok Sabha members, cutting across party lines, on Wednesday lambasted Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for the “cut-off poverty line” estimate released by the Commission and sought his removal as well as its disbandment “for deceiving the country and cheating people”.
“This is a cruel joke on the poor,” the members asserted and demanded a statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Speaker Meira Kumar too expressed her concern on the plight of poor in the country. “We have to be with them,” she said.
Soon after the House assembled for the day, the members disrupted the proceedings by raising the subject, forcing an adjournment till noon.
They took strong objection to the Commission's figures, released on Tuesday, based on the latest National Sample Survey (2009-10) that claimed the number of poor had come down to 29.8 per cent in 2009-10 from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05. “These calculations are based on the daily per capita consumption of Rs. 28 in urban areas and Rs. 22 in rural areas,” the Commission said.
It also claimed there was a decline in the incidence of poverty by 7.3 per cent over the past five years and added that as per the new poverty estimate, anyone with a daily consumption expenditure of Rs. 28.35 and Rs. 22.42 in urban and rural areas respectively was above the poverty line.
In September last, the Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in which the below poverty line (BPL) cap was pegged at a daily expenditure of Rs. 32 and Rs. 26 by an individual in urban and rural areas respectively at the going rate of inflation in 2010-11.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj took objection to the absence of Dr. Singh, who also happens to be the Chairman of the Commission, in the House when the subject was being discussed. There were efforts to wipe out the poor and not poverty, she charged.
Ms. Swaraj said the government, by accepting the report, was the real guilty. She sought its outright rejection and a fresh look at the poverty situation. She also sought the intervention of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who was present in the House, for rejection of the report and formulation of a new one that reflected the true picture of the poor.
Sharad Yadav (JD-U) charged Mr. Ahluwalia with “exploiting the poor” and sought his removal. “I don't know from where the Planning Commission got such statistics and it is time the Commission is reformed as the present set-up is not in favour of the poor.”
Mulayam Singh (SP) said when 65 per cent of the country's people were living below the poverty line, it was not possible to accept the Commission's findings, prepared by people sitting in air-conditioned rooms who tried to give a rosy picture on the country's living standard to the international agencies.
It should be remembered that there were still so many people sleeping on footpaths without proper shelter.
Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) condemned the Commission's efforts to use “fraudulent methods to underestimate poverty” and claimed that there was a national outrage on the latest statistics.
Kalyan Banerjee (Trinamool Congress) wanted the government to reconsider the whole issue with relevant facts and not on imaginary data. He even suggested convening a Chief Ministers' conference to discuss the issue.
T.R. Baalu (DMK) sought a special briefing session by the Planning Commission to MPs on the issue as the latter know better about the ground realities.
V. Arun Kumar (Congress) alleged that Opposition members were trying to mislead Parliament as the Commission had told the Supreme Court that the figures were per capita and not for the whole family. The family-wise figures were Rs. 4,824 for urban areas and Rs. 3,905 for rural areas a month.
Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) wanted the Lok Sabha to pass a resolution expressing disagreement over the Commission's data.
Prabodh Panda (CPI) hit out at Mr. Ahluwalia saying the latter thought he was above Parliament and it was deplorable that the country was being ruled by the Commission.
B. Mahtab (BJD) alleged that the Commission was confusing the whole country as a good lawyer who confused the court when his case was weak.