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Rich India, Poor India

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India's services sector growth may be finally moving up echoing the manufacturing growth in April thanks to a rise in new business; the inflation growth may be ebbing and consumer buying as well as foodgrain production picking up, but some things never change. About 60 per cent of India's rural population lives on less than Rs 35 a day and nearly as many in cities live on Rs 66 a day, reveals a government survey on income and expenditure.

"In terms of average per capita daily expenditure, it comes out to be about Rs 35 in rural and Rs 66 in urban India.

About 60 per cent of the population live with these expenditures or less in rural and urban areas," said Director General of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) J Dash in his preface to the report.

According to the 66th round of National Sample Survey (NSS) carried out between July 2009 and June 2010, all India average monthly per capita consumer expenditure (MPCE) in rural areas was Rs 1,054 and urban areas Rs 1,984.

Rural poverty is supposed to have declined faster than urban poverty during the latest period under review but the NSSO survey points out that 10 per cent of the population at the lowest rung in rural areas lives on Rs 15 a day, while in urban areas the figure is only a shade better at Rs 20 day.

In March, the Planning Commission said 29.8 per cent of India's population or 35.46 crore live below the poverty line, a sharp drop from (40.72 crore) 37.2 per cent in 2004-2005. According to one estimate, however, this figure could be as high as 77 per cent. The problem lies with the definition of the poverty line. The new count is based on fixing the poverty line for a person living on Rs 28.65 a day in cities and Rs 22.42 rupees a day in villages.

This is lower than last year's recommendation by the Planning Commission to set the poverty line at Rs 32 a day which stirred up a major debate across the country.

In India, poverty counts are based on a large sample survey of household expenditures, that they are based on the purchasing power needed to buy food with some margin for non-food consumption needs.

Poorest Of The Poor
"The poorest 10 per cent of India's rural population had an average MPCE of Rs 453. The poorest 10 per cent of the urban population had an average MPCE of Rs 599", the NSSO survey said.

The NSSO survey also revealed that average MPCE in rural areas was lowest in Bihar and Chhattisgarh at around Rs 780 followed by Orissa and Jharkhand at Rs 820.

Among other states, Kerala has the highest rural MPCE at 1,835 followed by Punjab and Haryana at Rs 1,649 and Rs 1,510 respectively.

The the highest urban MCPE was in Maharashtra at Rs 2,437 followed by Kerala at Rs 2,413 and Haryana at Rs 2,321. It was lowest in Bihar at Rs 1,238.

The median level of MCPE was Rs 895 in rural and Rs 1,502 in urban India, indicating consumption level of majority of population.

According to the study, food was estimated to account about 57 per cent of the value of the average rural Indian household consumption during 2009-10 whereas it was 44 per cent in cities.

The study reveals that the average monthly per capita consumption of cereals was 11.3 kg in rural areas and 9.4 kg in cities.

The number of poor in India remains staggeringly high. Also, demographics and the social character of the poor do not appear to be changing.

Labourers (farm workers in villages, casual workers in cities), tribespeople, Dalits (formerly called low caste untouchables) and Muslims remain the poorest Indians.

Almost 60 per cent of the poor continue to reside in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Significantly, 85 per cent of India's tribespeople and Dalits live in these states.

Most agree that India has reduced poverty - from 55 per cent in 1973-74 to 29.8 per cent in 2009-2010, if the recent figures are correct.

But it is not happening fast enough, considering India's reasonably high rate of economic growth. "High growth, though essential," says the India Development Report, "is not sufficient for poverty reduction on a sustainable basis."

(With Agencies)