[Noosemaker] It doesn’t add up for poor Monty

26 Mar,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


I suppose, if you add it up, you have to feel sorry for Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India. Of course, it is important to remember that I cannot add and neither, it seems, can Ahluwalia. He can however subtract. That is, if you have so many poor people and you want to reduce their numbers, you just reduce the numbers that make them poor. This is an effective tool but sadly no one in this country, except business journalists (the same ones who see any schemes for the poor as burdens on the exchequer), agree with Ahluwalia. Most people find subtraction a heinous and reprehensible method especially since people seem to be multiplying.


About here is where I run out of mathematical analogies. Because everything sounds like those school maths problems now – if a train is running at 100 km an hour and Peter has six apples, how many oranges does John deserve? For all I know, Ahluwalia also subscribes to my version of mathematics.


Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, how many poor people in India? A few months ago, Ahluwalia and the Planning Commsion (subtraction department) told us that if you could live on Rs 32 a day in a city and Rs 28 in a village, then you were above the poverty line. Faced with universal outrage – where many tried to live on that amount and couldn’t last more than 10 minutes – Ahluwalia huffed and hawed in his very good accent and told us that his figures have nothing to do with whether these magician-like poor people were eligible for benefits or not. The Planning Commission, it seemed, just needed these figures to help them in some way or the other.


So now we know in which way: to reduce the number of poor people in India. This time, in its final report, the Planning Commission lowered the number of poor people by lowering the numbers. Instead of Rs 32 in a city, now you are poor if you manage on Rs 28. In villages, the figure is down to Rs 22. This has led to a dramatic reduction in poor people.


Sadly for Ahluwalia, no one bought it this time either – except business journalists. The prime minister just quietly dumped the Planning Commission’s number and decided that someone else would start counting. Hopefully, it will be someone who can add, subtract, multiply and divide. Even fractions might help – the way business journalists and the rest of the tribe appear at times.


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