Various dimensions associated with poverty in India

The two main dimensions of poverty in India are:

  1. Regional dimensions of poverty
  2. Social dimensions of poverty.

Regional Dimension of Poverty:

Poverty  in India has a regional dimension. Poverty profiles differ in rural and urban areas. They also differ widely across states and regions of India. This is primarily due to wide regional disparities.

There is a wide interstate imbalance in the economic growth of rich and poor states of India. During the post reforms period (1990- 2004), some states have accelerated and some states have decelerated in terms of economic development. There is a wide difference in the investment climate of different states of the Indian union.

The rural–urban divide in India is widening after economic reforms. There is a deceleration in agricultural growth, which is the matter of concern in employment generation and poverty reduction.

It is seen that both rural and urban poverty ratios in India are declining over the decades. But some states are lagging behind. Orissa has the highest poverty ratio followed by Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The percentage of chronically poor is quite high in Bihar (25 per cent in rural and 19 per cent in urban areas), Orissa (24 per cent in rural and 22 per cent in urban areas) and MP (21 per cent in rural and 22 per cent in urban areas). Chronic poverty is very low in Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

It is observed that in 1973 rural poverty was the highest in West Bengal and urban poverty was the highest in MP. During 1993, rural poverty was the highest in Orissa. The poverty level of STs in rural areas of Orissa is the highest at 73 percent, and that of Bihar it is 59 per cent. The division of resources, as well as wealth, is very uneven in India, and this disparity creates different poverty ratios for different states. For instance, states such as Delhi and Punjab have very low poverty ratios. On the other hand, 40-50 per cent of the populations in Bihar and Orissa live below the poverty line.

Social Dimension of Poverty:

Poverty in India is not merely an economic phenomenon but also a social one. Poverty is seen today as an outcome of multiple deprivations. It is disproportionately high among SCs and STs. Poverty gets disproportionately concentrated among casual labourers. The share of STs in poverty had gone up during the 1990s, and that of SCs remained more or less the same. Tribes are poor and deprived in India. Among social groups, SCs and STs and backward castes accounted for 81 per cent of the rural poor in 1999-2000.

Growing dependency of rural and urban households on the casual labour market exposes the poor to market risks and tends to increase transient poverty, whereby households move in and out of poverty due to fluctuations in the labour market. The incidence of poverty among SCs is very high in Bihar, MP and UP in both rural and urban areas. In terms of income poverty and other indicators of human development such as education and health, STs are at the bottom.

The gender dimension of poverty is very important in India. There is gender discrimination against women in the labour market. A majority of women are illiterate. The female members of the poor household suffer the most from all kinds of deprivation. The standard of living index data reveals that 57 per cent of children belonging to poor households of rural areas and 50 per cent of children belonging to poor households of urban areas are stunted.

According to NCAER, 50 per cent of the rural population suffer from “capability poverty”. Only 43 per cent of rural households have domestic lighting and 25 per cent have access to tap water. It is widely recognised that while income poverty reduction is relatively easy, elimination of multiple deprivation is more difficult to achieve.

So a poverty reduction strategy should go beyond income poverty and inadequacy of basic needs and rights as well as inadequate access to both productive assets and social infrastructure. Therefore, empowerment of the poor is considered a critical factor in accelerating poverty reduction. Empowerment is sought to be achieved by giving a role to the poor in governance and development decisions.

At present NGOs, donor agencies, and development activists are exerting pressure on policy makers to involve all stakeholders in poverty alleviation projects and activate the panchayats and promote institutions like self help groups and user groups and mobilize the poor for collective action.

According to SAPAP (2003) poverty is the product of livelihood systems and the socio-political and economic forces that shape them. SAPAP argues that multidimensional interventions revolving around land and other property rights, bargaining power for improved wage, holistic health care, micro finance and insurance, and physical and social security are needed for accelerating poverty reduction. The key issue is to weaken the stronghold of the rich in the governance of local institutions and facilitate the participation of the poor.