Neoliberalism and Hunger in India

While I was writing Stuffed and Starved some of the most thoughtful and incisive analyses I came across were those by Utsa Patnaik. She has now made available a fine summary of her thinking on rural poverty in India, and for policy wonks in particular, it’s a must read. Abstract below. Full article here.

Many economic and social indicators suggest that not only is the level of absolute poverty in India high, there has also been an adverse impact of neoliberal policies on poverty. And yet, the poverty estimates by the Planning Commission and many individual academics, both using a method that renders irrelevant the question of a nutrition norm, show low levels as well as decline in poverty over the 1990s and beyond. This article proves that both comparisons over time of the all-India and state-level estimates of poverty as well as any comparison at a point in time of poverty levels across states, obtained by this method, are invalid. Using a direct poverty estimation route of inspecting and calculating from current National Sample Survey data the percentage of persons not able to satisfy the nutrition norm in calories, the author finds that in 1999-2000 nearly half of the rural population who are actually poor have been excluded from the set of the officially poor. For 2004-05, while the official estimate of rural poverty is 28.3 per cent, the author’s direct estimate of persons below the poverty line is 87 per cent. There is clear evidence of a large and growing divergence over time between the author’s direct estimates of poverty and the official indirect estimates.

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