Politics of poverty

Former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig struck out his name from proposed BPL list in Baramulla. The adulterated list was challenged by NSSO which stated that 85.4 per cent of BPL/AAY cards in J&K were with non-poor. E&S Department has now challenged the NSSO figures.  HAROON MIRANI reports the controversy 

A survey by J&K’s Economics and Statistics (E&S) Department states that the below poverty line (BPL) population in Jammu and Kashmir is five times higher than figures of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).

The latest findings, which the E&S department claims to have the acceptance of Planning Commission of India, can be the basis for fund allocation for the Jammu and Kashmir state in future.

A survey conducted by NSSO in 2004-05, to determine whether the benefits of schemes for BPL families were reaching the deserving ones, had come out with surprising figures. According to the survey, an astonishing number of 85.4 per cent of BPL/AAY (Annapurna Awas Yojna) cards in J&K were with non-poor, which is the highest in entire India. The survey suggested that 17.2 per cent of the total non-poor population were receiving the benefits of BPL/AAY cards.

According to NSSO, 7.9 per cent of poor in J&K had no ration cards and were thus deprived of any benefits. And only 55.1 per cent of poor had BPL/AAY cards, though only 14.6 per cent of total cards issued in J&K had gone to the deserving ones.

Based on the figures of families receiving BPL benefits, the state has been arguing that a large chunk of its population is poor.

According to NSSO, J&K’s poverty rate was only 4.78 per cent. It is on this basis that the Planning Commission has been allocating funds for the state. The E&S Department report challenges these figures.

“All our intellectuals and economists were arguing that the figures are not correct,” says G A Qureshi, director Economics and Statistics. “So the government ordered us to conduct a fresh survey to determine the number of people living below the poverty line in Kashmir.”

The department designed the study with norms acceptable to NSS, Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and other agencies.  “The study was conducted on seven per cent of the population,” Qureshi said.

The survey done by E&S Department states that poverty stands at 21.63 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir, a figure many times higher than the NSS findings. Poverty in rural areas is at 26.75 per cent and in urban areas, the percentage of poverty equals eight per cent.

According to Qureshi, the parameters to determine poverty were stronger than those employed by NSS. “We are using Per Capita Income (PCI) on current prices while as NSS relies on 1993-94 prices,” he says.

The scale used by E&S Department said that persons and families with PCI per month of Rs 500 or less for rural areas and Rs 600 or less for urban areas fell below the BPL.

“Number of other criteria have also been employed to locate the real poor people,” said Qureshi.
According to the study, Kishtwar, Reasi, Ramban, Kargil, Kupwara, Bandipora and Poonch were among the poorest districts in Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu, Srinagar and Samba were the richest. Some areas of the state have recorded poverty percentage as high as 60 per cent, thus projecting a grave picture of its socio-economic condition.

The first of its kind study has complete detail of poor people from all the 22 districts of the state. “It will go a long way inefficient planning of our resources and government will certainly gain by devising developmental schemes that will reach the deserving sections.” According to Qureshi, the new study based on facts has been appreciated by the Planning Commission too.

The disparity of poverty figures between state and New Delhi has long been a point of contention. New Delhi used to allocate funds according to its own figures and state would cry over it being injudicious. Now the state will be pushing its case going by the latest survey.

The number of poor people has been a hot debate in the state also. People allege that the government provides incentives like subsidised rations to people with political clout, bribery and other such recommendations.

Senior Congress leader Taj- Mohi-ud- Din Photo : Bilal Bahadur

In 2005, the then Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Taj Mohi-ud-Din told the J&K Legislature that there were 7.46 lakh families in the state with a BPL ration card. He said that out of a total population of about 1.10 crore in the state, the government provides benefit to about 40 per cent population.

In the recently concluded assembly session, there was a heated debate over non-poor getting BPL cards. At least seven members raised the issue citing its graveness.

Durga Dass, MLA Hiranagar, while demanding an enquiry into the issue said, “In my constituency, about 80 per cent names in the BPL lists are of transporters, government employees and even landlords.”

The government too admitted the menace of non-poor getting benefits meant for the poor.

“The possibility of some flaws in the lists due to political pressure cannot be ruled out”, Minister for PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control, Taj Mohiuddin had said. Taj had promised that a fresh survey will be conducted to determine real poor.

To add to the problem, the BPL lists of Rural Development Department and those of Consumer Affairs and Public

Distribution Department differs from each other. The government admitted that too in the house recently.

Even the State Vigilance Organisation registered a case against 3 CAPD officials including Assistant Director CA&PD Jammu for misappropriation of BPL and AAY rations meant for weaker sections of society thereby causing a loss of over Rs 12 lacs to state exchequer.

Analysts say that it is just a tip of an iceberg, as thousands of such cases go unreported or undetected. In many cases where a complaint has been lodged, the action is still awaited.

The graveness of the issue has been accepted by almost all the legislators, in opposition as well as in the treasury benches. The inclusion of non-deserving people in the BPL list deprives the poor sections of the society their due right to subsidised rations or other benefits of various centrally sponsored schemes.

According to sources, most of the people getting subsidies under BPL rations are political activists. A couple of years ago, former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig had to intervene personally to get his name out of the proposed BPL list, which was freshly compiled by district officials and political activists to appease him.

To overcome the misuse of ration cards, CAPD is going to start the issuance of unique photo ration cards. These cards will be given to all the Above Poverty Line (APL), Below Poverty Line (BPL) and AAY categories of rationees. Each ration card will have the photograph of the head of the family and names of other members of the family. The new ration cards will involve verification at various levels and will have six-digit unique code numbers. But people say that similar practices have been adopted earlier with no effective results.

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