AIDWA Holds National Convention Against Fraudulent BPL Targeting
THOUSANDS of women from all over the country participated in AIDWA?s ?National Convention against Fraudulent BPL Targeting that Excludes the Poor? in Delhi on March 4, 2008. Presiding over the convention, Subhashini Ali welcomed the participants from different states of the country for coming to Delhi and raising their voice against hunger. She criticised the present policy regime under which women are getting less nutrition by each passing year.
Prof Utsa Patanik from JNU inaugurated the convention. She argued that the public distribution system, which was initiated in 1957, is now under attack from fraudulent government policies and the allocation of food grains to different states by the centre is decreasing dramatically. Introduction of targeting in the PDS in 1997 has further eroded food security for the people. After independence per capita food production increased to 180 kg by 1990 but with the introduction of neo-liberal policies in 1991, it has decreased to 160 kg. She said the extent of damage caused by such policies is revealed by the NSSO 2004-05 figures, which shows that the per capita calorie intake has fallen drastically all over the country even in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai where 57 percent and 85 percent people are malnourished, respectively. However, government estimates for poverty do not reflect this reality because below poverty line estimates have not been revised and the planning commission has adopted an arbitrary and deceptive methodology for BPL estimates in order to artificially deflate the level of poverty in the country.
Sudha Sundararaman, AIDWA general secretary, placed the main resolution before the convention and it was supported by secretary, Kiran Moghe. Speakers from the state delegations spoke in favour of the resolution giving their own experiences. There was tremendous applause from the audience when Samirun Bibi, Sarpanch of Nandigram, greeted the convention. Others who spoke were Rampari (Bihar), Sugandhi (Maharashtra), Madhu (UP) Kesar Devi (Rajasthan), Shivani Mahto (Jharkhand), Baby Salim (MP), Kala Paswan (Uttarakhand), Subhash (Punjab), Susan (Kerala), Suneeta (HP), Rajalakshmi (TN), Asha Sharma (Delhi), Radha (West Bengal), Surjita (Orissa), Shakuntala (Haryana) and Lakshmi (Karnataka). The speakers from West Bengal and Kerala spoke about the huge cuts that the central government has made in their ration quotas.
Rajya Sabha MP and CPI (M) Polit Bureau member, Brinda Karat also addressed the gathering and said that while the central government had given some relief to debt-ridden farmers in the recent budget, it was the LDF government. of Kerala that had set up the Debt Relief Commission and waived loans taken from moneylenders, but this political will was lacking in the central government. She said that the Finance minister had failed to address the issue of price hike in the union budget and had not increased the budgetary allocation for the PDS. Rather, he has been arguing that prices have fallen by 1percent recently. Like the fraudulent BPL criteria, the government methodology for calculating inflation is also fraudulent. Only 9 percent weightage is given to food items in the overall calculation of inflation, while only 17 percent weightage is given to all essential commodities. She accused the government of continuing to overlook the plight of the poor suffering from price rise. Brinda also attacked the planning commission for contemplating removal of APL families from the benefit of subsidised food grains. She said that a more sensitive and realistic approach was required to calculate the poverty line in our country. Among other things, the condition of migrant workers must also be taken into account for such calculations.
After the convention, all the women marched into the Yojana Bhawan to demand immediate action from the planning commission. Traffic outside the Yojana Bhawan was blocked for two hours and all the gates of the Yojana Bhawan were surrounded by hundreds of angry women demanding an end to the BPL fraud and demanding universalisation of the PDS. Finally, an AIDWA delegation was invited to meet two members of the planning commission who received their memorandum and promised to convey the anger of women all over India to the vice-chairman of the commission.
The convention adopted the following resolution
This national convention representing women from several states across the country questions the methodology of poverty assessment and the related policy of identification of families below the poverty line (BPL) of the government of India. The policy of targeting adopted by the government excludes large masses of the poor and needy from the benefits of subsidised food grains, public health and education services, pension schemes, housing and a vast number of government programmes. This is adversely affecting women headed families, widows, the landless, dalits and tribals. The recent NSS report shows that 61 percent of dalit households, 55 percent of tribal households and 52 percent of agricultural labour households in rural areas do not have BPL cards.
This convention observes that targeting is a ploy promoted by the World Bank and IMF to reduce subsidies and government spending in this era of neo-liberal globalisation policies. According to the planning commission only 22 percent of our country's population is below the poverty line. No doubt this is an effort to fudge figures to show that the economic policies pursued by the government are resulting in economic prosperity and reduced poverty.
This convention challenges these figures. We say they are totally wrong. We dispute the government's claim that poverty has gone down. We say the planning commission?s estimates are fraudulent. They are based on a calorie-based poverty line (2100 ? 2400 calories per person per day) that was fixed in 1979. On this basis, the current poverty line is Rs 327 per person per month for rural areas and Rs 454 in urban areas. The Indian Council of Medical Research has prescribed a minimum of 3800 calories for an adult male and 2925 calories for an adult female undertaking manual labour, which is what most poor people in our country do. This poverty line is therefore woefully inadequate. Secondly, it is outdated and does not properly reflect the actual consumption patterns of an average family. Moreover, there has been a huge increase in the price of many essential items including food grains, vegetables, oil, medicines, fuel, etc., but the current poverty line has been calculated at prices that ruled in 1999-2000. It therefore needs to be substantially revised because it results in the exclusion of the majority of the poor. Additionally, the planning commission has been imposing a fixed and arbitrary quota of the number of BPL cards to be issued by the states, as a result of which even those who are eligible by these faulty criteria are denied BPL cards! In many states, the actual number of BPL cards issued is far lower than the numbers identified in the surveys.
There are several other government studies and reports that indicate that the number of poor in the country is much higher than the planning commission figures. For example, the recent Arjun Sengupta committee report states that 77 percent of the total unorganised workers, 88 percent dalits and adivasis, 80 percent OBCs and 84 percent Muslims in the country survive on barely Rs 20 per day. As per the latest National Family Health Survey every second child under 3 years of age is underweight; every third child is stunted, one out of 5 children under 3 years of age is wasted and three out of 5 women are anaemic. Obviously this is because they are not eating enough. In our country where most people are poor and malnourished, it is cruel to further divide them into categories of ?Above Poverty Line?, ?Below Poverty Line? and ?Antyodaya? and pit them against each other in their struggle to access to subsidised foodgrains. According to the same survey, 59 percent of households do not live in a pucca house, 58 percent do not have access to piped drinking water, 55 percent do not have access to toilets, and 32 percent do not have electricity. It is clear that the government?s figures for poverty have nothing to do with ground level realities.
The ministry of Rural Development has conducted a survey that uses a set of 13 questionable criteria to rank households according to their poverty status as "very poor", "poor", "not so poor" and "non-poor"! According to these criteria, if a woman has more than two saris, eats one square meal per day throughout the year, goes to work, owns either a fan or a pressure cooker and has children whom she has put in school with great difficulty, she is not considered to be eligible for a BPL card! As a result, not only can she not buy subsidised food grains, she also cannot be a beneficiary in several government schemes, because they require her to have the same BPL card. As a result, several lakhs of widows are denied pensions, lakhs of women who are members of self help groups cannot avail of subsidised loans, they are denied critical medical care in government hospitals, and their children cannot get scholarships and uniforms. But what is worse is that even households that are identified by this unsatisfactory process are excluded if their total number is not within the limit prescribed by the planning commission. This convention demands that the government abandon the policy of targeting and fulfil its responsibility to provide the poor with their basic right to food, clothing, shelter, employment, health and education.
This national convention of AIDWA asserts that
We will not allow the government to invisibilise the poor!
We resolve to launch a big nation-wide struggle to oppose the concept of targeting!
We oppose the planning commission?s fraudulent concept of ?BPL?!
This national convention of AIDWA demands:
Use of realistic criteria by the planning commission to estimate poverty
A universalised public distribution system
Removal of BPL criteria in all health, education, pension and other anti-poverty government schemes.