Ashish Bose coined the term BIMARU in a paper to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s to highlight the economic backwardness of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. He tells Somesh Jha he is not inspired by the Planning Commission’s bogus poverty figures. He says it is time the commission wound up. Excerpts:
You coined the term 'BIMARU', but these states performed well in alleviating poverty in 2011-12 compared to 2004-05. Do you think that these states are slowly shedding this tag?
I feel BIMARU states are still BIMARU because all this data which show that poverty has reduced magnificently are tall talks and nothing more. Look at the recent tragedy in Bihar where so many children died. Hence, the administration is rotten there till date. There are no second thoughts that Rajasthan is doing slightly better but Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are still very backward states. In fact, the list of my original BIMARU term is ever growing with states like Odisha and Assam also joining the league.
What do you have to say about the Planning Commission's latest estimate on poverty which says that the poverty rate has reduced to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05?
I believe that the Planning Commission should wind up. It sometimes gives bogus numbers and I do not agree at all with whatever they are doing. If you say you are a market economy, why do you need the Commission? Let each state in the country fend for itself and produce its own plan. We do not want a national plan. The Commission more or less speaks for the government in power and nothing else.
So do you mean to say that the poverty numbers were underestimated?
The poverty rates have, in fact, increased. The price of even the basic food items have gone up considerably in all these years and vegetables are equally costlier. All this hocus-pocus is going on in the name of 'aam aadmi'. Has any of these great politicians gone and stayed with the common man? Rahul Gandhi goes to villages and stays there for a night, which is all symbolic, with all his security staff. I say go alone and stay like you are the common man. Then, you will experience the real world and not with your entire crew.
The UPA claimed that the poverty reduction in their stints has been double than what it was a decade prior to their rule. Are you saying it has not really happened?
These are all statistical claims. We were taught in college that statistics is a good way of telling a lie.
What do you think can be the method adopted to alleviate poverty then?
The government should truthfully introduce the welfare programmes, without leakages. All these poverty alleviation programmes are of no use if there is corruption prevalent in the economy. My driver told me that he was asked for bribe for renewing his voter identity card. What does one expect if you can steal the pockets of the poor as well? With the level of corruption still eating away the economy, the whole country seems to be turning into a BIMARU country.
At present, a debate has been going on between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati over economic growth versus redistribution. What is your take on the debate?
Both are good scholars but both live abroad. They come to India for occasional visits and hence, they cannot appropriately tell about the level of poverty in the country. Whatever they say on television and international press is for glamour.
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The Planning Commission said that anyone who spends up to Rs 27.2 per day in villages and Rs 33.33 in urban areas are poor. Do you think that this poverty line is appropriate?
There is no such thing as poverty line for a country as a whole. One should take poverty estimation as a unit. Each state is different so this macro-approach is not acceptable to me. This is not the way of estimating poverty. One should have own indices as to what explains poverty in that particular state. There cannot be a single point of reference for the estimation.
Some politicians, a few days back said that one can have food for Rs 5 or Rs 12. What is it going on? A great "tamasha". It’s a joke on the poor people that these politicians are senselessly making.
So what do you think the poverty level in India looks like?
My estimate is that in India majority of the people are poor undoubtedly and in some places even more than 70 per cent. Actually, it all depends on the level of urbanisation and the nature of the sector whether formal or informal that one is employed. The Sen Gupta Commission came out with a report on the informal sector a few years back which said that 90 per cent of the workers are in the informal sector and they are all poor.
Do you think that measures like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme have worked well for the rural areas?
One must generate incomes before coming out with populist measures. You create 100 days of employment. But, what about rest 265 days where they are still deprived of work?