Rich dividends from poverty

Rich dividends from poverty

Reports on poverty, released by World Bank periodically, have stopped ruffling government feathers in any country. They are more of academic interest...

Reports on poverty, released by World Bank periodically, have stopped ruffling government feathers in any country. They are more of academic interest than basis for result-oriented and effective action. One reason is, since the four-letter word 'poor' exists mostly in the developing countries, their governments are in no position to make the dirty word clean by wiping out poverty through massive welfare schemes or something similar to those by injecting billions and billions into the system to rid the lowest rung of society of their economic backwardness. It is a gargantuan task. If they could do, in the first place, they would not have been bracketed under different semantic headlines "poor, have-nots, Third World, etc." Since the governments themselves are poor, they have to borrow money from global lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and seek grants and aid from rich countries to develop their economies and to improve people's standards. But the business of borrowing and approaching the 'haves' with begging bowls will not always work to their satisfaction because the lenders keep reminding the receivers that beggars can't be choosers; aid comes with strings of conditions, often to the detriment of national interest; and they set their own terms to make the recipients follow an agenda which they think is best suited for the aid-receiver without considering local factors.
The result is poor countries will always find themselves in a catch-22 situation and their leaders will be in Hamlet-like dilemma � to borrow or not to borrow � facing the perpetual cycle of poverty. Poor people's woes are compounded by mismanagement of national resources, public corruption, cronyism, authoritarianism and little regard for principles of justice, fair play and wealth generation for overall growth rather than individual's. It's a challenge not only for conscientious political leaders of the world but also for economists, sociologists and experts from other disciplines tackling global problems that impinge on individual and national growth, ultimately impacting on the global development. When the latest World Bank report, The state of the poor: Where are the poor and where are the poorest," is viewed in this light, the number of people living in extreme poverty � 1.2 billion � in the world makes us wonder whether poverty can be eliminated at all. The more disquieting fact is one-third of the global poor is in our country. Translated into numbers, it is 400 million or 40 crores who are living on less than Rs65 per day. That is almost double the amount the Planning Commission had set as a threshold limit for the above poverty line last year. If we go by the latest World Bank norms, perhaps, the poverty limit our leaders are talking about may be, in fact, extreme poverty, generally reserved for Sub-Sahara region in Africa. None of us likes to compare India with some of the poorest of the poor countries in the world where emaciated bodies and vast stretches of green-less lands have become the faces of hunger, starvation and deprivation. No doubt, we are not in such a pitiable condition, though a lot needs to be done to remove disparities and to reduce the widening gap between the poor and the rich. With the available resources, the country is in a position to do it � a lot has been achieved since independence � but the kind of parameters we have to measure poverty levels is more confusing than standardizing them to redraw the lines. A case in point is the ration card system in different colours to denote the levels of poverty. It is an acknowledged fact that a large number of people bluff the officials to get ration cards reserved for the poor to corner government subsidies. Their greed cost the tax payer and the government and inflates the amount spent on subsidies. And, unwittingly, they add to the number of poor! Not surprisingly, their dishonesty keeps the country backward and perpetually poor. As a classic case of turning the tables, 'poor' becomes respectable and 'rich' dirty, though the gap between the two is relative and subjective. As a result, the poverty lines and levels get obfuscated and the real picture turns hazy. When we look at international agencies' statistical reports about socio-economic indices, based on government-supplied data, we don't know how nearer it is to the ground reality. The confusion arises mainly out of the age-old belief that one should not reveal one's wealth for various reasons and be humble about talking money. In modern India, the adage comes handy to conceal wealth, avail of undue benefits and dodge taxes. After all being 'poor' pays rich dividends � at least for some!
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