ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Minimum Needs of Poor and Priorities Attached to Them

Attached to Them V Sitaramam S A Paranjpe T Krishna Kumar A P Gore J G Sastry From an examination of the NSS data covering 1951-1991 and taking the cereal consumption deprivation as a measure of poverty the authors present an estimate of poverty in India without using the dubious concept of the poverty line. They argue that there is no need to have a poverty line to measure the degree of poverty of any community or group of vulnerable households. The method developed here reveals that cereals constitute the commodity group that occupies the top position in the hierarchy of needs, both in rural and urban areas. Next item of priority, both for rural and urban areas, is fuel and light and not clothing partly because one cannot make a 'roti' out of wheat without the cooking fuel If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle Introduction ALLEVIATION of poverty has become one of the most important items on the policy agenda of many a government, particularly in the developing countries. Economic research so far has concentrated on the issue of measuring and monitoring the extent of poverty, rather than on the issues of designing the appropriate poverty alleviation pro' grammes. Designing such programmes requires some insights into who the poor are for whom such programmes must be designed, and what their needs are. The view of a major segment of the economics profession on these two issues has been that all those who arc below the poverty line are the poor who need poverty alleviation programmes, and that their needs are based on the common, perception of hierarchy of needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, health, education, etc. There are two problems associated with these economists" views. First, the idea of identifying the poor by the poverty line is neither acceptable to the policy-makers nor is it feasible, as the poor do not have a regular and stable source of income. Also it is not based on good scientifie and objective reasoning. Second, there is no clear-cut empirical evidence that the hierarchy of needs corresponds to the oft-repeated slogan 'food- shelter-clothing' or "roti-kapada-aur makan'. These priorities may vary from community to community, and from place to place. The ordering of needs depends on the circumstances facing the people. For example, for people living in colder climates and on forest slopes, clothing and shelter may be more important than for people who live on the plains with a more favourable climate. Similarly, the food habits may vary from place to place. Hence, what one needs is a measure of consumption deprivation that is commodity specific and community specific. The economists have, in our opinion, put undue emphasis in defining first who the poor arc and then defining their poverty. It is our view that it is more meaningful and useful to define poverty as consumption deprivation, which is the opposite of welfare, and then to decide, on a case by case basis, who ought to be the beneficiaries of any poverty alleviation scheme.1 The choice of the beneficiaries should depend on social, economic, political, and administrative considerations. The targeting of the poverty alleviation schemes, in terms of the commodities for which subsidies are needed and the people who ought to receive those subsidies, should be region-specific. From this perspective, and given that the notion of poverty is basically relative, it is even preferable to call such schemes as welfare- improving schemes rather than poverty alleviation schemes.

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