May 04, 2010

Poor numbers

Another Tendulkar, this one by name Suresh, has been getting some newsplay in recent weeks. (Gratuitous facetious question: why "another Tendulkar", is there somebody else people think of when they see that name?)

You know why. The Suresh Tendulkar Committee has done substantial damage to the complacency with which we've long assumed that we're well on the way to eliminating poverty in this country. Only a few years ago, we heard from government and commentators that "only" 26 per cent of India fell below the poverty line, a great reduction from 1991 when the "reforms" began. Well, this Mr Tendulkar tells us that according to his estimates, now accepted by the Government, it's more like 37 per cent of India that's below the poverty line: 370 million people in 2005. That's projected to rise to 405 in 2011 according to today's Hindustan Times.

A few completely random thoughts about these numbers.

* 370 million is greater than the population of India in 1947. (So, for that matter, is 405 million). That is, we have far more poor Indians today than we had Indians at Independence. I think this is a statement that we could have made at any time in every one of our 62+ independent years.

* 370 million is also the number of dollars that brought an IPL team to Pune in the recent round of bidding. (As an aside about the Pune team, check Girish Shahane's sharp eyes). That is, the guys who bid for the Pune team could have used their money to hand out one dollar to each of India's poor millions, possibly nudging them over the poverty line for a day. Gives me some perspective.

* 370 million poor in 2005 rising to 405 million in 2011 is an annual growth rate of just over 1.5 per cent. (Check the numbers yourself). According to various estimates, that's comparable to how fast India's population as a whole is growing (e.g Wikipedia says 1.548, World Bank says 1.34, CIA World Factbook says 1.407, etc). In other words, the number of poor Indian is growing just as fast as the Indian population as a whole (and maybe faster). That is, we are making zero progress in reducing poverty.

Someone tell me what, if anything, I am missing.


Postscript: Above, I said: I think this is a statement that we could have made at any time in every one of our 62+ independent years.

Not true of course, lazily written, let me hasten to correct it. Just doing some quick calculations in my head, I suspect it's a statement that we could have made at any time in at least the last 35 or 40 years.


Pub Chick said...

Therefore, the correct question to ask will be: why are these poor people reproducing in such high despite not being capable of providing their children anything at all. Is forcible sterilization justified in such a context?

And the wrong question will be asking anything to "we Indians." That's just a made up term for silly movies and means nothing.

primo janitor said...

re comment above. considring the post shows that the growth rates of poor people is essentially the same as growth rates of whole india, your mention of forcible sterlization must apply to whole india. is that your implication?

(my first comment on this blog which I recently discovered) ...

Pub Chick said...

No, that's not my implication. What I intend saying is that the problem is more complicated and these partial statistics seem to hide that.

I am no Maltusian but let me ask you this: if the population of Earth were to reach 20 billion and 6 billion live in abject poverty then -- will you say that the population of the Earth used to be 6 billion and therefore we earthlings have failed? The implicit assumption here that the capacity to engender human existence infinitely and progressively better bothers me.

primo janitor said...

re comment above again. point of interest to me is not about what prev population used to be, but it is that the growth rate of population in poverty is the same as growth rate of whole of India's population. iow, no reduction in poverty.

is this a reality?

Pub Chick said...

That's my point.

It's wrong to compare the two and arrive at any conclusion.

Anonymous said...

chick, whats yr point? its wrong to compare which two? pl b clear.

blueshift said...

"why are these poor people reproducing in such high despite not being capable of providing their children anything at all. Is forcible sterilization justified in such a context?"

I think human reproduction is not based on capability to provide. A person having a million $ will not be ready to reproduce more than 2 but a riksha puller will reproduce 10 without even thinking about his bank account.

It can be Poor are widening their net for success by reproducing more..

Before that,the question is are poor reproducing at a rate more than Rich?

Is it that Rich are forming a gang for themselves and are starving the poor for resources of this planet or country?

Are rich trying to keep poor as poor only?

Is force sterilization of rich of India JUSTIFIED so that they will start sharing resources with poor and not accumuate more wealth and resource for a few human beings they reproduce?

Is state acting on behalf of Rich only?

or State listens only to rich?

Should State listen only to rich?

If state listens or works for the intrests of only rich then should poor be part of such a state or form their own state which distributes wealth/resources uniformly?

Questions are many Chick.....

Ketan said...

India's big population density plays big role in poverty.

High density leads to disguised & apparent unemployment.

This leads to poverty, competition for resources, & use of arguably unethical means. Lack of ethics gets institutionalized.

All this is reflected in overall lack of professionalism & ethics seen in most areas of our country.

Take simple example - a 15 year-old student memorizing & reproducing an answer, without understanding most of it is unethical. Why? Because putting to paper what one does not fully understand amounts to pretence. Hence, it is unethical. Does our society view it this way? This deep is the problem - that we've stopped recognizing unethicality for what it is. It's rather worshipped by calling students who do it as "toppers" or "scholars".

Most of my above comment might seem off-mark, or maybe it is, but in light of such facts, how do we expect our politicians & bureaucrats to work for the larger welfare of the country, when doing so is not perceived as a duty they are bound to, but as altruism!

At a practical level, huge population is certainly a big problem. Bigger problem is that it is still steadily increasing!

Pub Chick has made a valid point (not exactly against your post) that absolute number of poor people increasing is natural to happen when population has increased to this degree. Moreover, as population becomes bigger struggle for resources rises exponentially. In fact, poverty-percentage would rise faster than the population!

From blue shift's comment, I can only draw attention to one fact that the concepts of inheritance & responsibility of nurture on parents somehow go against the spirit of equal opportunities to all children. Basically, what apart from random luck decides whether someone will get to study in public school or will have to shine peoples' shoes?

Had India been not so painfully poor, we could've done something about this disparity.

I'm sure Dilip, you must be aware of fallacy in the argument (if you were making it through Sahara's Pune team's example), that if we redistribute wealthy people's money everyone will be happy. No! Everyone would just remain as poor! Only incentive for production will be lost.

I've said most of the above things on your blog before. One thing that heartened me recently was that Atanu Dey in a blog post had illustrated that it's possible to alleviate poverty through sound economic policies.

Ketan said...


I've a small complaint. I'll try to put it across in most straightforward & non-offensive manner (also, it's not intended to be offensive).

You highlight many problems in your blog posts; more frequent issues have been - dysfunctional judiciary & law-enforcement, economic disparity & poverty, blind-faith in traditions (casteism & side effects like honor killing); and common peoples' (like myself) apparent apathy towards such problems.

Personally speaking, it's not that I'm unaware of such problems. But I also do not have solutions in sight. Or whatever I think to be solutions, are difficult for me alone (or few individuals) to effect. Beyond this, I'm selfish also. I concentrate on my own pleasures and pains (not unnatural, considering self-centered survival instinct is fundamental to our success as a species).

But what we need are solutions to these problems. Problem of poverty in our country is so apparent that statistics don't even matter; just looking around is sufficient. What do you think can be done to offset poverty? I'm not challenging you. You're not an economist, but you have vast experience & wisdom. I'm curious what you think could be practical solutions to poverty & other interrelated problems?

But having said all this, what you choose to blog on is entirely your prerogative. :)

Pub Chick said...


What you cite is exactly what I had earlier stated as Dilip's appeal to emotion. The problem I have with it is not that it's not relevant but that when it stands alone it's trivial in the sense of it adding no new perspective or thought except to seek a few "Oh dear!"

Empathy cannot be an end itself and has to necessarily lead to/ aid something else. If not, that's intellectual dishonesty which is why I have serious issues with this blog's author.

Dilip D'Souza said...

… what I had earlier stated as Dilip's appeal to emotion.

You had earlier stated this? Really?

All I can say is, thank you -- by which I mean to say maybe I should thank your multiple identities -- for confirming publicly what I knew all along. Because though the id changed, the same snide insinuations kept coming.

"Pub Chick" has left 14 comments on this blog so far: six here, one here, two here, one here, and four on this page. None of them say anything about my "appeal to emotion"; there's not even a mention of the word "emotion" in them apart from the one immediately above.

On the other hand, "Sapathan" has left several dozen comments on this blog. Ten refer to my "appeal to emotion": two on this post, one on this one, three on this one, one on this one, three on this one (where "Sapathan" also seems to have decided to confuse himself with herself in multiple identities, and then suddenly stopped commenting altogether).

Nobody else has ever mentioned my "appeal to emotion".

So when "Pub Chick" writes of what s/he "earlier stated as Dilip's appeal to emotion", s/he is telling us inadvertently that s/he was "Sapathan" earlier. And of course neither handle is his/her real name. (Which I know too, but I'll wait for her/him to make another inadvertent admission to speak of that).

And such a person accuses me "intellectual dishonesty". Excuse me while I splutter in my coffee.

And that really is all you get from me, Sapathan/Pub Chick/whatever you want to call yourself -- until you come back with your real name. (Which, let me remind you, I know).

Dilip D'Souza said...

Ketan, good points. I will respond.

Pub Chick said...

If you had spent that exhaustive time gathering up this nonsense on trying to reason, I'd have appreciated more. But you do get full points for digging up your own blog. That must have been bruise to the ego you braved.

How does it matter to to you who I am? And how do I care who you think I am? I am merely interested in why you are intellectually dishonest within the layer of your post.

Pub Chick said...

And intellectual dishonesty, the last time I checked, has nothing to with the person choosing a handle. Please wipe that coffee off wherever. I am sorry to have spoiled that fine furniture, if it indeed was.

I really do wish people find internal consistency in argumentation as a virtue. But I guess I shall keep those thoughts to myself and watch the fun instead.

Dilip D'Souza said...


Some thoughts on going through your two comments.

* I don't agree that our "big population density plays a big role in poverty". Over all, we are by no means the most densely populated nation on earth, and some that are more densely populated have far less poverty than we do (Netherlands, Taiwan, S Korea for three examples). It's not even necessary to check other countries: Bombay is more densely populated than much of the rest of the country, but probably has less poverty than other places in India.

* I do agree that the lack of ethics gets institutionalized, and appreciate your example about the student memorizing answers.

* We do have a big population, but we've had a fair amount of success in reducing the growth rate. (Check the World Bank data I pointed to in the post). While it is the cause of plenty of our problems, I think it's more useful to look at our people as our greatest resource. (Which we sometimes do, in speaking of our "demographic advantage").

* I cannot see evidence for this assertion: "poverty-percentage would rise faster than the population". Why? The experience of most countries that have gone through what we call "development" -- all the Asian tigers, for example -- is that they have managed to reduce poverty, both in percentage and in absolute numbers.

* My Pune IPL team mention was just to put the numbers in some perspective. Not to suggest that the team owners really go handing out a dollar to each of 370M Indians.

* it's possible to alleviate poverty through sound economic policies: but of course it is, and trivially so! I don't know too many people who would say something to the contrary. I would hope and expect that Atanu Dey is saying a little more than just that much.

* I don't have policy solutions to poverty up my sleeve that you don't know about. For only one example, I think NREGA, despite failures and abuses, as a whole acts to fight poverty.

* But actually I think our greatest obstacle to battling poverty (and such things as malnutrition and injustice) is actually what you yourself mention: the "apparent apathy" that we have towards these things. And that's really why I write some of what I do: to try to turn that apathy around. There have been a few times when I feel like I've had small successes in that effort, which for me is what the reason to keep writing.

Anonymous said...


Great post.

I refuse to accept our acquittal from a serious charge of complicity in this great human tragedy that is our country, subcontinent or for that matter the world.

We (you excluded) can not be so easily let off. We are not apathetic. We (you included perhaps) actively inflict poverty and injustice over people who live under our boots - our domestic servants, our rickshaw walas, our peons, our watchmen, our laborers, our sweepers. We have an ingrained contempt for them and their kind. Our caste, religion, race and communal identities help us justify that contempt and our actions.

We are not ignorant, silent, hapless bystanders. We are responsible. We are complicit.

You can be let off because you are fighting it. One of the many - but still relatively few - honorable people who have the moral fortitude and courage to say, "Hang on. This is not right"

I hate to quote that a-hole, sold out, war apologist Christopher Hitchens at this point but he accurately stated -
"... most people who claim to be apolitical, in practise and in theory [are] allies of the status quo and when the status quo is threatened, a trusted allies of the conservative forces"

It applies to all of us - typically educated (middle and upper class) people - who exonerate themselves of the hideous crimes and those of their parents that they commit simply by virtue of what's "normal living" in our vicious and parasitically class conscious lifestyles.

We are not apparently apathetic. We are actively oppressive.

"We must be the monsters we are looking for"

Baby Vaijayanti (a bit of advert)

primo janitor said...

@pubchick, trying to mount a revival after your pants were taken down and you got an ass-whipping, eh? lol.

make fun of the "exhaustive time", what else do you have?

Pub Chick said...

Err, okay. If this what you consider ass whipping and you enjoy that -- good for you!

Pub Chick said...

Plus, I wanted to say, this is the exact thing I don't understand. Let's assume I did have my ass kicked as you seem to suggest. So, does that make the argument any less or or more relevant? How does the person making the argument matter over the argument itself? I am mostly baffled why people on the blogs think it's some kind of a contest.

Plus plus, I also think the wasting time argument in Dilip's case actually matters despite it being what you'd call personal. Because it refers to the internal structure of the argumentation here while handles and me doing the same within the layer don't.

Ketan said...



Netherlands is a developed nation, and has had historical advantage in access to resources. India at the time of independence did not have sufficient money & means to provide salaries for manual labor that would've been required to build & operate factories, which in turn would've been required for urbanization. Hence, probably, successive governments thought it best to let everyone produce food for themselves as food is the most basic requirement for survival. Hence, most of the people remained restricted to villages, into farming. Green revolution somewhat reduced the number of people required in farming. This made urbanization possible & more imminent. But by the time this happened, entire world started facing shortage of minerals & means of energy production. India, unfortunately did not have money, nor did it have minerals (like coal, good quality iron, mineral oil) nor a well trained work force that could be involved in research & innovation (say, Japan or Israel). So, urbanization still remained elusive.

The reason I'm stressing on urbanization is because your examples also point to it. Of course, it's got to be planned urbanization, e.g., with stress on public transport instead of private.

Agricultual sector is the prime example of disguised unemployment. Not so many people as are currently engaged in food production are required!

You had asked if Atanu Dey had provided solutions. Here's the post:

He's not given specific ideas, just a few examples.

My statement on "sound economic policies" must have been a 'duh'-moment for you! But please understand, for practical purposes I consider Indian economy a gone case! I have all along been feeling, even with best of the policies it is impossible to salvage India. In light of this overwhelming pessimism, Atanu's blog post gave me some hope that it's not "impossible" at least.

Anyway, Atanu's post will lead you to another post where I'd actually raised the doubt. In that post I've put another comment that talks of 'theory of karma', do read it if you find time - it is in line with what 'Baby-puppy' had to say.

I'm skeptical of NREGA's effectiveness 'cuz from what I've heard/read it's acting more as compensation for unemployment rather than payment for real work.

Ketan said...

I forgot to mention, so if let's say India's population would've been, say, five times less, everyone would've had five times the share to resources (of course, with same attendant problem of unequal distribution).

Ketan said...

That's another example of why I'm skeptical of any improvements in India's condition. You'll find a few points repeated, but the anecdote is what I wanted to convey.

First paragraph was in reference to an argument I had about genesis of 2002 riots, which you can ignore. :)

Rest of the comment was in response to the idea that Sangh family must work for most downtrodden of people to restore communal harmony in tribal areas of Gujarat. The comment highlights my skepticism why organization like RSS or Bajrang Dal (or for that matter, any political party) will not work selflessly for betterment of the most marginalized people.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Incidentally, I approved a few comments in a hurry a little earlier because I had to go out -- and then I realized I had approved primo janitor's last comment as well.

Please keep that kind of language and attitude to yourself in the future. Thanks.

Jai_C said...


1. Likely related background post here is "six eggs". Do read the post and the discussion in comment thread:

2. Maybe I should stick to reading the post you linked but Atanu calls MMS "despicably dishonest", "no integrity, intelligence, etc. etc"

And that was just a quick browse of that blog. Maybe I will get back to it after a while but I rather like reading stuff from people on the same planet.


Ketan said...

Thanks, Jai!

The anecdote of a person anonymously donating Rs. 6000 was interesting & heartening.

Well, I read many, but not all comments in the original post you'd linked.

I could not find a solution nor even general idea as to what needs to change (in our attitude &/or governance).

But I also repeat (and with emphasis), I do not expect Dilip to come up with precise measures as economics and governance are not his fields of expertise (and especially if they were, I'd understand little).

But let me touch upon a few themes I found in the article & my ideas on them (do excuse if they're deemed off-topic, but at least they might turn out to be points of discussion elsewhere):

1. Anecdote v/s statistics.

I think both are important. Anecdotes show us the human behind numbers. But anecdotes may also not be representative of a population.

One of the problems with statistics is heavy reliance on the mean (colloquially called 'average') of quantity under study. We do not know what the distribution looks like. In fact, in the comments itself there was a disagreement on whether 6 eggs a year had increased throughout the population or only for the poor.

Standard deviation & percentiles when used with statistics provide better perspective. But not many people would be comfortable with such concepts.

2. Increase of 6 eggs/year as an index.

There are many related issues. As many had asked, what was the baseline? How many eggs per person were being consumed before (15 years back)?

It is here I feel we need to factor in population growth as big problem.

No doubt, food grain consumption has decreased over years, & egg consumption has increased only marginally (assuming baseline was much higher than 6/year). But is all this not in face of static natural resources (land & irrigation water), but rapidly growing population? This is why I feel population is a big impediment to removal of poverty & suffering.

Also, eggs were used as index to economic status or to nutritional status? If it was latter, then I must say it's a very heartening change, because in India, starvation is not as much about calorie-deficit as it is about protein & vitamins deficit. Calories are easily provided by rice (quite cheap) & wheat (costlier). But proteins & vitamins require eggs, pulses, milk, vegetables & fruits (extremely costly)....

Ketan said...

3. Useful indices for economic reforms.

I'd been taught that international agencies consider infant mortality rate & under 5-mortality rate as best surrogates for overall development. The logic is that both the statistic in turn depend on multiple factors like nutrition, sanitation, availability of primary health, safe drinking water, education, etc. In turn all of them depend on sound economics (provision of all require spending).

India's constantly been improving on such indices (e.g., human development index), but not fast enough. Of course, faithfulness of data-collection remains questionable (this is where anecdotes help).


Now, moving to an entirely different issue. Why huge population (density) is a problem.

In india, majority of population is poor. Unfortunately, they're so to speak, unskilled, or skills they possess are ubiquitous.

The injustice involved is plainly apparent when a person digging road all day long in scorching heat earns just Rs. 30/day, but a lawyer would earn Rs. 5000/h sitting in an air-conditioned office. Would the laborer want to be in lawyer's position? Most certainly! But he cannot. Because lawyers are too few, whereas those living merely to be able to survive & desperate to dig road to earn that 30 rupees are too numerous. They can be exploited! They do not have bargaining power.

But imagine, if we would have too few of such people? If lot of them become lawyers?

Then, lawyers would earn lesser & lesser, and manual laborers would earn more. Latter would be able to afford to send their children to school. There would be no question of starvation.

But how can such state be achieved? One thing Atanu had suggested was by construction of superfast rail. It would create a huge market for manual labor & somewhat offset high availability. Second, by those not having the means to survive producing fewer children. This sounds cruel, but it is not. Awareness must be raised. Greater strictness was required than was used (not forcible sterilization, of course). But well, governments did not do all of this. When two-child norm was to be promoted, it was three. Now time is for one child norm (though we are in denial about it), but government does not seem too forthcoming on the idea.

Redistributing money does not serve any purpose, because money is only representative of resources (which are scanty because of high population density)....

Ketan said...

...But some people have also pointed out, despite obvious advantages of population control, 'the elite' do not want that to happen, because otherwise they will have to start paying much more to domestic helps, sweepers, watchmen, etc.!

As to the last part of Jai's comment, well I'd come across Atanu's blog very recently (around 2 months back). I understand, he does not pride himself in being politically correct. And that is a part of the charm in how he writes. ;) Curiously, he had been mentioned in one of the comments in the 6 eggs-post. You need not agree, but I find him intelligent, academically qualified and honest.

Your "same planet" analogy reminded me of a slightly related interesting read: Food for Thought, and for the Soul (click).

Thanks, again!

Ketan said...

My comment over here on a related issue might interest you:

Roots (click).

Jai_C said...

1. Atanu:
I remember some other issues I had with this gentleman's views but its clearly OT to this thread.

2. I'm not even within screaming distance of knowing economics policy so I'm not going to continue :-)

I'm hoping Dilip and you (and anybody else knowledgeable) will continue this thread.

3. In conclusion:
- infrastructure projects do look like a very good idea.
- I dont think the post you linked to talked about education/ job skills improvement.


Ketan said...


As I said even my knowledge of economics is very poor.

Let me try to explain (based on my understanding, having read his other posts, and my own ideas).

If large number of infrastructure projects come up, the demand for manual labor will go much higher. Does government have this much money to sponsor projects? No. So, let private players enter. Private enterprises will pay for even the mineral & energy demands. Let them make profits for reasonable periods (Build-Operate-Transfer; or possibly, remove the 'transfer' part).

The demand for manual labor would be so high that their rates of pay would be 10 times of what they're currently.

This will create demand for education. Right now, education is kind of thrust upon the poor. There's very little incentive to send children to schools in face of abject poverty. But households that earn Rs. 2000/month, if they start earning Rs. 10,000, then they would want to send their children to schools. They would be, e.g., willing to pay for school staff. This itself would ensure better education, and better reach. Likewise, with increased purchasing power, there would be greater demand for health facilities, civil engineers (to build pakka houses, drainage systems), mobile towers, phone lines, markets, electricity, etc. Even today these demands exist in that they're needed/desired, but they're not backed by purchasing power.

So, government has to flex its muscles to provide them to villages ("free electricity"). But once there'd be purchasing with rural masses, there'd be competition among power companies to provide electricity.

Basically, what schemes like NREGA are doing, large scale infrastructure projects would do 10 times better. Schemes like NREGA are only giving that much money to rural families that would keep them barely alive. They're not increasing their purchasing power.

Now of course, the entire fantasy I built here is based on the premise that super fast trains will be in demand (& profitable). Of course, they will be! Imagine, to get train booking, one has to try at least 2 months in advance! If five times faster trains are available, lot many passengers could be transported in a single day. This itself would ensure profitability without significantly raising the fare-rates. If travel time would be very less, sleeping-berth would be required in very few trains, further increasing the number of passengers transported per bogie...

Ketan said...

...These tracks can also be used for cargo, which would be much more cleaner & efficient than road transport.

Of course, all this also raises concerns for environmental hazards - that's where government needs to pitch in. Regulations have to be so strict & incentives for such projects so high that environment protection technologies become a huge market in themselves.

Energy could be provided through nuclear power (many find objectionable, but personally I do not).

This project would require years to be completed. But it would've ensured survival, education, health insurance, pension, etc. for the workers. They would become skilled in one area (construction of high-speed rail tracks, e.g.). They would also be able to go to other countries where similar projects would go on & earn.

The most importat thing such projects will do is to allow for gradual urbanization, which in turn would take off many people from current inefficient mode of farming, and also ensure employment of least skilled people, & health & education of their children.

Bottomline is being able to create a very, very big market for manual labor, and according rural people some real purchasing power. That is where, as Atanu puts it, imaginative economic policies are required.

Sorry, for a largely incoherent & fanciful comment, but hope I could explain how large projects have potential to improve things. :)

primo janitor said...

i am sorry dilip. this is yr space and i will repect your sentiments about it in the future.