Even though India is a fast growing developing economy, a BRIC nation, it is estimated that approximately 40% of its population is below the international poverty line. According to a recent report by an Indian government committee, ‘even after more than 50 years of independence India has the largest number of poor people in a single country. Of its nearly 1 billion inhabitants, 260.3 million are below the poverty line, of which 193.2 million are in rural areas and 67.1 million are in urban areas’. These are some stark statistics that are increasing as the country continues its growth.
In the summer of 2007, there was a severe draught situation in the areas surrounding Nagpur (Centre of India). I was pursuing my masters in a college about 35 odd kilometers from Nagpur city at that time. While on a day out with friends, I came across a nearby village who had hung up a message board just outside the entrance that read- ‘Village for sale’! On interviewing some farmers there we came to know that several farmers had committed suicide that year because of zero productivity. Further enquiry told us how there had been no aid from the government and how some loan givers had actually tried to take away their farms. They had no money even to eat and hence wanted to kill themselves. This was my first encounter with the frustrations of poverty in rural India. Some of these poor had also tried migrating to urban areas out of their desperation, only to have displaced families and live in sub human conditions. This lead to health issues, which in turn increased poverty.
Poverty, in my opinion, is a never ending vicious circle. Here is a self-explanatory diagram to understand this statement better:
Unemployment is one of the major causes of poverty in rural areas in India. This leads to issues like malnutrition, exploitation and even desperate jobs such as criminal activities. As Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, ‘to a man with an empty stomach food is god’.
The government of India has launched innumerable number of schemes to tackle the problem of poverty specifically in rural areas. But the corruption and other such social evils have rarely enabled the success of such schemes. Let us take the example of the critically acclaimed National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA). At initiation, it guaranteed 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to any rural household whose adult members are willing to participate in unskilled manual work. The Act was supposed to be an important step towards realization of the right to work and aimed at arresting out-migration of rural households in search of employment while simultaneously enhancing people’s livelihood on a sustained basis by developing the economic and social infrastructure in rural areas. We all know what actually happened. Evaluation reports in most of the states have shown how poorly the guidelines of the program were followed or how the money never reached its intended receivers.
In my view, the government of India, along with other non-governmental organizations, has to go a long way before poverty can be eradicated completely. Education and a basic level of hygiene (along with preventive medications) is the skeleton of the whole structure. Formation of co-operative societies, social security, industrialization, channelization of work according to expertise, training and up gradation are other facets that need immediate attention. Only when these basic issues are resolved, will the rural poor be able to sustain themselves.