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 (Extracted Image Courtesy: BJP)
 
 
The war to win the poor as a class vote is becoming fiercer with Congress Party resolving to eliminate “abject poverty” by 2030. The war between the Congress & Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is reminiscent of the slogans war they fought in 1971. 
The Congress won the 1971 Lok Sabha elections with its Garibi Hatao slogan, BJP, in its earlier avatar – Bharatiya Jan Sangh, fought the elections with its manifesto headlined “Jan Sangh Declares War on Poverty”. The Manifesto’s cover page showed an arm holding a danda (staff). One does not know whether the photo tried to invoke spirit of Mahatama Gandhi or of a Chowkidar.
The current war between the two parties is, however, is not a mere battle of slogans. It is serious clash of two approaches to remove poverty.  
BJP is banking on all existing schemes plus the assumption for sustained economic growth. This is actually Modi Government’s approach to make India Poverty-free by 2022 under his New India Pledge unveiled during August 2017. This observation is tentative as BJP has not yet released its manifesto for 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It may contain some new initiative in the domain of inclusive growth.
No one is, however, buying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of poverty-free India by 2022. Not even NITI Aayog that he heads. In a 2016 presentation, NITI stated: “Growing at 10% will transform India – India will be a $10 trillion economy with no poverty in 2032”.
These are just numbers & assumptions as the Government failed to develop a working definition of poverty line in five years. It relies on the one expounded during the UPA’s tenure. The latest official estimates on poverty are for 2011-12 that were released by UPA Government in July 2013.
Congress, on the other hand, has adopted existing schemes plus specific cash payments to help the poor come out of poverty. As put by its manifesto, “rapid and broad-based growth will reduce poverty and, in the medium to long term, eliminate poverty. On the other hand, decisive and focused intervention has the capacity to eliminate poverty within a decade. Congress, therefore, sets the goal of elimination of abject poverty by the year 2030”.     
Both approaches should be taken with a plenty of salt for same reasons as were discussed by experts & Members of Parliament in 1971. Participating in a debate in Rajya Sabha, BJP leader, Dr Bhai Mahavir, observed: “Garibi hatao is a very good slogan, but the people want to know how Indiraji is going to hatao garibi. Merely painting slogans on the walls will not do”.
Late Dr. Mahavir recalled what Mrs. Indira Gandhi stated in 1970 before this slogan was coined In an answer to a question put by him, she explained that “If a minimum standard of living of Rs. 20 per month is to be provided, the rate of growth has to be 15 per cent”.
He continued: “Only then would we be able to provide that standard and that by 1974-75. How long does our Government hope or think it will take to reach that rate of growth is something for which they have no answer”.
Late Krishna Kant had also shown similar concern during a Parliament debate in August 1970.  He asked why Congress Party was “sliding back” from its 10-point resolution of 1960s that promised fulfillment of basic minimum needs (BMNs) of people by 1975. 
This query came in response to Mrs Gandhi’s reply to a question on BMNs strategy.  She stated: “According to present calculations a minimum consumption of Rs. 1600 per year family of five is expected to be possible by 1980-81. This could be improved upon if we succeed in further accelerating the pace of development beyond what is envisaged in the Fourth Plan”.
To achieve BMNs target for 1975, the economy had to grow at a sustained rate of 7% per annum from 1960 to 1975.  This rate was simply not achievable during that socialist era.  
As put by 4th five year (1969-74) plan document, “Excessive optimism regarding the possibilities of speedy transformation of the economy and the elimination of poverty and inequality needs to be moderated in view of the constraints operating on the economy”.
The Plan also identified population growth of 2.5% per annum as a major hurdle in faster removal of poverty. As it is, India’s population is huge in relation to the availability of resources.
It observed: “If population keeps growing rapidly. the major part of investment and national energy and effort may be used up for merely maintaining the existing low living standards. Population growth thus presents a very serious challenge. It calls for a nation-wide appreciation of the urgency and gravity of the situation”. 
Neither Modi Government nor the Congress Party considers unsustainable population growth as a major constraint in poverty elimination. The term, population control, thus, does not figure in Congress manifesto.
 In its 2014 manifesto, BJP made muted reference to population growth, a far cry from its earlier manifestos where it pressed alarm over population explosion.
Modi Government did not even re-constitute National Commission on Population, which was created by Vajpayee Government & nurtured by UPA. Modi Government abolished family planning allowance that was given to Government employees as inducement for small-family norms.
Thus, both the anti-poverty approaches of BJP and Congress are based on shaky assumptions – Ostrich-like stance towards population explosion and outdated poverty data and wishful on GDP growth. Moreover, Both have not defined afresh the poverty line. 
Congress’ Rs 12,000 per month as minimum family income can be deemed as a working definition of poverty.  Surprisingly, this criterion for identification of beneficiaries under proposed Minimum Income Support Programme or Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) is missing from the manifesto. This monthly income was referred to seven or eight times in Party’s press release, giving details of Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY press conference. 
Congress Manifesto says NYAY would benefit 5 crore families (25 crore persons) who constitute the poorest 20 per cent of all families. Each family would get Rs 72,000 per year. 
It has proposed to execute the scheme as joint initiative of Centre and the States without specifying the funding pattern . The Manifesto says that NYAY will be funded through new revenues and rationalisation of expenditure. Current merit subsidy schemes that are intended to achieve specific objectives will be continued.
It adds: “Congress believes that the size of India’s GDP and the level of Total Expenditure (Central and State Governments) allow us to undertake an ambitious programme of cash transfer to the poorest sections of the people without in anyway affecting the goal of fiscal prudence”.
Modi Government, on other hand, is implementing election-eve PM-KISAN as 100% centrally funded scheme. Under this, specified marginal farmers are being paid Rs 6000 per year in 3 installments.   
NYAY’s implementation would be staggered starting with a Design phase (3 months) followed by a pilot and testing phase (6–9 months). 
The first phase of NYAY would thus be rolled out during 2020-21. The manifesto has estimated cost of scheme at 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the first year and 2% of GDP in 2nd year and subsequent years.
The manifesto has thus not specified the core challenge in sustaining NYAY or any other universal basic income (UBI) for the poor. The core challenge is estimating the sustainable rate of robust growth in GDP – a rate which leads to robust tax & non-tax receipts required to fund NYAY. 
Minimum GDP growth rate of 10% per annum for two decades is essential to eradication of poverty. It is also required for ensuring that those who are a whisker above poverty line don’t slip into poverty for varied reasons. This is of course based on the assumption that populism-smitten Government would avoid controlling population growth. 
This is tall order in highly uncertain business environment where policies and projects at the mercy of NGOs and the judiciary. 
Lastly, no has quantified the total central and state subsidies doled out ostensibly to the BPL families. There is no estimate how of much of it siphoned off or ends in hands of ineligible families.If poverty eradication is really a shared priority of all governments, then why can’t they pool all subsidies to fund job guarantee scheme for 365 days both in urban and rural areas.  The scheme would not only provide assured income to poor families but also put human capital to optimum use for creation of assets – new roads, new houses, new plantations, new waterworks, new forests and what have you. 
Put simply, the only workable approach to lead minimum dignified life is to earn one’s income. Ultimately, it all boils down to managing economy and demography in way that creates work opportunities for all. This job is beyond the capacity of Indian system. Indian democracy is geared for dole-outs, favours such as reservations but not for creating adequate work opportunities including at least 40 percent of good-quality jobs for the population.   
 
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 4th April 2019
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