Chronic poverty in India: overview study

Type Working Paper - Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper
Title Chronic poverty in India: overview study
Issue 7
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2001
This paper tries to summarise the current state of knowledge about chronic poverty in India and identify the agenda for further research. An overview of the trends in incidence of income poverty in India is provided so as to place chronic poverty in context. It views chronic poverty in terms of severity, extended duration and multidimensional deprivation. It tries to identify the states and regions that have a high incidence of people with incomes severely below the poverty line so as to focus attention on areas that are spatial poverty traps. Those unable to access even two square meals a day are considered to be the most severely deprived and hunger exists even in the supposedly better parts of India. Policy action is needed to address this. Attention is also drawn to the importance of identifying those who are vulnerable to extreme poverty due to inability to absorb the impact of shocks.

The incidence of chronic poverty in the duration sense is studied on the basis of analysis of panel data sets in the literature. Casual agricultural labourers are the largest group and cultivators the second largest among the chronically poor. The bulk of the chronically poor depend on wages.

Poverty is the sum total of a multiplicity of factors that include not just income and calorie intake but also access to land and credit, nutrition, health and longevity, literacy and education and safe drinking water, sanitation and other infrastructural facilities. The paper presents and analyses estimates of multidimensional indicators of poverty that reflect human and gender development and empowerment as also infant mortality estimates and female literacy. An attempt is made to see if areas suffering from a high incidence of severe income poverty also suffer deprivation in access to literacy, knowledge, nutrition, voice and infrastructure.

The disproportionately high incidence of chronic poverty among historically marginalised groups such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, the elderly, women and the disabled is analysed. The multiple deprivations suffered by these groups make it harder for them to escape from poverty.

The paper tries to examine the extent and nature of chronic poverty within the spatial poverty traps or remote rural areas. Two sets of remote rural regions are considered: dryland regions characterised by frequent failure of crops and employment opportunities leading to high level of unprotected risks of livelihood security among the poor; and secondly, the `forest based' economies, especially in hilly regions with predominance of tribal population with limited access to natural resources on the one hand, and information as well as markets on the other. Factors affecting chronic poverty in these regions are analysed, the relationship between chronic poverty and agro-climatic conditions, agronomic features, human capabilities, social structure and infrastructure studied and variations in the dynamics of poverty across the two sets of regions are identified.

The paper briefly looks at policy interventions in the context of poverty reduction as also attempts by communities to demand accountability and transparency in government spending in the name of the poor. It concludes with a summary of the key findings and agenda for further research.

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