Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

The extent of poverty


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Poverty line

Mains level: Paper 3- Estimating poverty in India


There has been an uproar about the working papers of the IMF and World Bank, reporting no or low poverty for India in the pandemic year or just before that.

About the IMF paper

  • The paper by Roy and Weide (2022) for the World Bank explores the possibility of using CMIE (unemployment data) in poverty calculations after correcting for the unrepresentative character of its panel data by modifying the weightages of households for aggregation.
  • These adjustments carried out to remove the non-convergence of the CMIE data with other macro statistics have resulted in a poverty figure of 12 per cent.

What does the poverty index measure or attempt to capture?

  • Its construction involves complex calculations — to identify a poverty basket of consumption, working out price indices for updation of the poverty line and then applying it to the income or consumption of households for determining their poverty status.
  • Absence of consumption expenditure: The computation becomes far more challenging in the absence of data on consumption expenditure as is the case in India and several developing countries.
  • Intending to provide inputs for policy making, researchers have evolved ingenious methods of estimating the data, using past datasets and those that have not been designed to get robust expenditure estimates.

Background of poverty line in India

  • A nine-member working group set up by the Planning Commission proposed the poverty line at Rs 20 per capita per month in the early Sixties, loosely ensuring the adequacy of minimum requirements.
  • Poverty line based on calorie needs: Dandekar and Rath (1970) went into detail about minimum calorie needs, based on the average consumption pattern.
  • Issues with calorie based poverty line: During the Eighties and Nineties, it was realised that this linkage is getting blurred due to changes in the consumption pattern, microenvironment for living, etc.
  • Sukhatme argued that the emphasis on calories and nutrition is misplaced as the absorption of nutrients depends on physical health, particularly the presence or absence of gastrointestinal diseases.
  • Water and sanitation facilities were noted as important in determining the poverty line.
  •  It was accepted that the state, through poverty interventions, cannot and should not try to guarantee adequate nutrition to people.
  • Delinking the nutritional norms: The Tendulkar Committee formally announced delinking of nutritional norms from poverty in 2010.

Extrapolating the consumption expenditure on NSS 2011-12

  • Bhalla, Virmani and Bhasin (2022) in their IMF Working Paper have developed a method of interpolation and extrapolation of the consumption expenditure of the NSS 2011-12 and building a series up to 2019-20.
  • They use the growth rate of private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) but bring in the distributional changes by allowing household consumption to grow as per the nominal per capita income in each state.
  • Takes into account rural-urban price difference: Rural-urban price differences are also introduced through separate poverty lines.
  • The method is reasonable except that it assumes the distributions to remain unchanged both within the rural and urban segments in each state over 2014-20.
  • Also, the growth rates of different commodities in the PFCE are significantly different and hence commodity-wise adjustments can be done to give higher weights to the items of consumption by the poor.
  • Taking into account the role of state: The most significant contribution of the study is its bringing in the differential engagement of the state in the provisioning of the essentials to the poor into poverty calculations.
  • This opens up the possibility of changes in the level of state engagement in poverty estimation, including free gas cylinders, etc.


People find the World Bank paper figures pegged at 12% more acceptable not because of the methodology but the magnitude. One does not know whether the poverty estimate would be a bit higher had the adjustments been carried out for a few other parameters and also at the state level.

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