One finding of the Arjun Sengupta Commission’s final report, The Challenge of Employment in India: An Informal Economy Perspective, should make us balk, but more importantly, should guide our assessment of “India”: “77% of the population in 2004-05 had to make do, on an average, with no more than Rs.20 per per capita. But, as Jan Breman points out in an article in the EPW, officially people below the line are the ones who get by with Rs 12 per day consumption.
There is one piece of statistic that got a lot of Indians angry recently: Victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy were compensated on a par with victims of road accidents. There was indignation all around that Indian lives were being considered so cheap. If dead Indians are given the short shrift, so are alive and not-kicking Indians. Rs.12 per day?
If we go by international norms, that figure should be doubled or in purchasing power parity terms it should be equal to spending capacity of about $2 per day. Indians who get outraged seasonally, in tandem with TV anchors, should also be outraged by this fact, isn’t it?
But instead, as Bremen points out, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector or NCEUS’s reports hardly are acknowledged by the “Indian Establishment”. And one would presume TV anchors are part of the establishment; they often are heard saying “we” when talking about — well, the Establishment.
Arjun Sengupta and others, in fact, have published a paper in 2008 in the EPW which also needs to be read along with Jan Breman’s article. The title of it is India’s Common People: Who Are They, How Many Are They and How Do They Live?. The abstract should make people want to read the paper. The abstract is: “This paper attempts to define the common people of India in terms of levels of consumption and examines their socio-economic profile in different periods of time since the early 1990s with a view to assessing how the economic growth process has impacted on their lives. The findings should worry everyone. Despite high growth, more than three-fourths of Indians are poor and vulnerable with a level of consumption not more than twice the official poverty line. This proportion of the population which can be categorised as the “common people” is much higher among certain social groups, especially for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. There is also evidence to suggest that inequality is widening between the common people and the better-off sections of society. ”
So let the TV debates begin!