We called him 'Bapu' and he called us 'Bapu' too! Every time we visited Hanuman Sarange's farm, Bapu would greet us "Ram Ram Bapuuu" with a faint smile on his wrinkled face. A few months passed like this and when we got some time alone, I asked bapu about his life and how he ended up with his brother. He started talking, looking away in void, as if his life story was being projected on the cloudy monsoon sky.
Bapu had 2 acres of farmland in the nearby village Dongargaon. His only son migrated to Adilabad (some 250 km away) after marriage, to work in a textile mill as a worker. Bapu and his wife managed the farm. Some 10 years ago, Bapu fell in a dry well and fractured his hip bone. They took him to a government hospital but there was no doctor in sight. On going to a private hospital, the doctor said he needed surgery which would cost him Rs. 50,000, thrice his annual income. He contacted his son for help but he didn't respond. Bapu did not get any treatment and his left leg became useless. The disability made him unfit for field work and he started giving out his farm for sharecropping, which halved his already meagre income. In 2010, his wife passed away. The son didn't even attend his mother's funeral fearing he would have to take Bapu with him. "All I am waiting now is death. It would end my sufferings," concluded bapu with moist eyes.
Death finally blessed bapu and relieved him of his pains in January this year.
While Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Co. were sipping green tea and deliberating on 'Who is Poor?', Bapu was declined any pension meant for elderly handicaps because the maximum daily expense for such benefits is Rs. 11 per person! (in rural areas, Rs. 17 per person for their urban counterparts) So, if a rural elderly widow with cataract in her eyes earns Rs. 12 per day, she is not so poor as to need the pension of Rs. 200 per month. Well Done Mr. Ahluwalia. India has less of those filthy poor now, because you've just broomed a few million under the carpet.
The predicament of poverty is not new. The question of defining poverty has been the favorite pastime of many economists. Here are a few definitions of poverty and the number of 'Poor' Indians according to these definitions (table 1)
According to a World Bank report, "The number of people living below a dollar a day [in India] is down from 296 million in 1981 to 267 million people in 2005. However, the number of poor below $1.25 a day has increased from 421 million in 1981 to 456 million in 2005. This the biggest challenge facing India today." This strengthens my theory that the high-profile policymakers work on the same principle (and gets paid handsomely) that we followed in our college laboratory (and got thrashed): 'Don't do any experiment at all! Just set the desired results and back-calculate the necessary observations.' I can imagine Mr. Ahluwalia working overtime charged by a cappuchino and Russian salad, to lower the poverty line just enough.
The result? India suddenly has 7.3% (85.6million) less poor 'entities'. India can, without any guilt, continue to Shine and the IPL cheer-girls can carry on their tamasha while the rest of India fights with these shameful facts: