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Re 1 to Rs 12 meals: These politicians should EAT their words!

Last updated on: July 26, 2013 20:50 IST

Re 1 to Rs 12 meals: These politicians should EAT their words!

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Rediff Newsdesk

If you lived in India, you would think these Congress leaders live in some city called ‘Bohemia’. For, Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar has a hearty meal for Rs 12, and Rasheed Masood lives just fine on Rs 5.

"You can eat a meal in Delhi for Rs 5. I don't know about Mumbai. You can get a meal for Rs 5 near Jama Masjid," Masood had said on said on Thursday. Babbar had on Wednesday said it was possible to have "full meal for Rs 12 in Mumbai" even today.

His remark came at the All India Congress Committee briefing, in response to a volley of questions, as he tried to explain that poverty has come down even as prices have risen. Later though, Babbar expressed regret over his remarks, saying that he was only referring to the Below Poverty Line families.

The two veterans were speaking after debate broke out on how the government calculates poverty data.

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How the government calculates poverty data

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The earlier definition of India's poverty was based on calorie intake, according to which only 27.5 per cent of people were living below the poverty line as on March 1, 2004 and the number of Below Poverty Line families were about 6.5 crore.

As per the methodology suggested by the Tendulkar report, the number would swell to 37.2 per cent of the total population and the number of BPL families to about 8.1 crore (81 million).

The new poverty estimate which would reflect the impact of high growth recorded during the decade, would be available in 2011.

The Empowered Group of Ministers on food, which had cleared the draft of the food security bill last month, was reportedly asked by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi to have a re-look at the proposal and consider the possibility of raising the highly subsidised monthly foodgrain allocation to 35 kg from 25 kg and increasing the number of beneficiaries.

Currently, a ration card holder is entitled to 35 kg of food grain every month.

According to oneworld.net, despite sustained high gross domestic product growth in India, latest estimates of global poverty by World Bank suggest that India has more people living below $2 than even sub-Saharan Africa.

These new figures should compel political leaders and policymakers to devise fresh strategies to reduce poverty.

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Image: A woman cooks food on a street in front of her shanty in Mumbai
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters

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'These are hilarious examples'

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And as if the flak these two leaders got from all quarters was not enough, Union Minister Farooq Abdullah on Friday added more fuel to the quarter by saying one could fill their stomach for just Rs 1 if they desired.

"If you want, you can fill your stomach in Rs1 or Rs 100, depending on what you want to eat. We are working to change the life of the poor so they can eat well be healthy and India can progress," Farooq Abdullah said.

 

Later, Farooq also expressed "regret" if his statement caused any hurt. "My comments on the cost of a meal in the media have been taken out of context but I realise that what I said may be misconstrued. I regret any hurt this may have caused," Abdullah, whose party is an ally of the ruling UPA said.

 

Of course, all these leaders came under heavy fire from all quarters -- from opposition parties -- to the common man.

“These are hilarious examples,” said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. "In Delhi, people get free food in langar (community kitchens) in gurudwaras and there is no need to spend any money on food there. We can say food is served free," he said.

The Bihar chief minister disagreed with the estimate that the number of people living below the poverty line has shrunk to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05.

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Image: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar


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'The Congress is mocking the poor'

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In Bihar, the number of poor is much more than this estimate," the Bihar chief minister said.

The Shiv Sena also joined in the fray and said that the Congress was mocking the poor.  "In Mumbai, you can't even get a cup of tea or Vada Pav for Rs 12," said Sena leader Sanjay Raut.

The Bharatiya Janata party went a step further -- taking a dig at the Planning Commission's formula for calculating poverty figures, Delhi BJP chief Vijay Goel sent money orders of Rs 33 each to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Deputy Chairman of the Plan panel Montek Singh Ahluwalia, challenging them to spend a day on the amount.

"We strongly condemn the twisted figures used by the Planning Commission of India to claim shrinking of poverty in the country. The criterion taken as a poverty line benchmark in the urban centres is laughable," he said.

He said he has sent a money order of Rs 33 to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit also.

Meanwhile, Congress leaders have distanced themselves from the remarks made by their colleagues. "We do not agree with Rs 15 and Rs 5 statement of some leaders," Congress leader Ajay Maken tweeted.

When asked about Masood's remarks, Union Minister Manish Tewari said the issue should not be trivialised.

"There is no need to trivialise everything. The question is about the report of the Planning Commission in which they have compared the decline in poverty in 2004 Vs 2012, National Democratic Alliance Vs United Progressive Alliance," he said.


Image: An elderly homeless woman begs on a street in New Delhi
Photographs: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

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