India is a land of paradox! On the one hand we have a thriving economy labeled as the fastest growing in the world and on the other hand still 21.2% of total India population reside below poverty line. India has done a tremendous job in pulling out a substantial population out of poverty in last decade. Yet the challenge remains big. But the monumental efforts envisaged by the Government are poised to provide good living standards to a large population in coming times.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor who gave the famous Oxford speech said, “The fact is that, before 200 years, the British came to one of the richest countries in the world- a country which had 23 per cent of global GDP… a country where poverty was unknown.” He further adds “A country that was the world leader in at least three industries- textiles, steel and ship building. A country that had everything. And after 200 years of exploitation, expropriation and clean outright looting, this country was reduced to one of the poorest countries in the world by 1947.” More than half the population was below poverty line practicing subsistence agriculture.
The challenge before the Nehru Government was monumental and they started with Soviet style socialist planning which failed to provide the necessary trickle down effect. Hence post 1970s, the Government led by Mrs. Indira Gandhi with Twenty Point Programme tried to reduce poverty. The Governments thereafter targeted both poverty alleviation and employment generation under one umbrella and started with initiatives like Integrated Rural Development, Swarna Jayanti Rojgar Yojna, Indira Awas Yojana, etc. But the important and successful schemes were Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana and MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) which proved to be very effective and efficient. PMGSY provided the necessary connectivity for the development of rural areas and pulled a substantial population out of poverty due to employment generation via roads. Whereas the path- breaking MGNREGS provided rural masses with minimum 100 days of guaranteed job with no pre required skill sets. After 10 successful years of MGNREGS, it is established that this single scheme has proved to be panacea to reduce poverty at high rates. The transmission effect of MGNREGS on poverty is appreciated by the present Government too which has made whooping Rs. 48,000 crore allocations in this year’s budget to this scheme.
Although we have miles to go to eliminate poverty as India has the highest number of people residing below poverty line but the efforts of Government in past decades must be applauded. Even the rural population today is well connected with telephone and internet and their nutritional habits are also changing keeping in view the refining trends of consumption due to increased power of purchasing. This paints a bright picture for the coming times of rural India where they can also use digital modes not only to transact but to get information and sell their produce at reasonable rates. The India of today is changing at rapid scale with the given level of technological penetration coupled with globalization effects. India has in the past leapfrogged adoption of landline phones and gone directly to usage to mobile phones. With the rapidly reducing poverty in rural India, history is poised to repeat itself, this time in the financial sector. We will delve deeper into the subject in a subsequent blog post.
As the Tendulkar Committee on Poverty found out that we still have a large population below poverty line, the present efforts by the Government to skill the rural masses will go a long way to reduce poverty line below 10%. Even the policies to boost agriculture and bring food processing industries into limelight can fetch good earning to rural poor. If the loopholes and leakages of poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes are reduced and made effective, then in near future Poverty will be truly just a state of mind!
Abhishek Ranjan is a Research and Policy Analyst to Members of Parliament (MPs) Mr. Ninong Ering and Mr. Dilip Tirkey. He is also working as a Consultant to DTSRDF and University of Chicago’s Delhi Center for Anubhav Lecture Series, and is a Policy Consultant for FinTech startup Credy. Earlier, he was a LAMP Fellow and graduated in Engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology.