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PGT: I f we look at the figures of poverty, until recently the government was claiming that barely 2.5% of the population was below the poverty line. Now they have changed the definition of the poverty line, and now the Planning Commission says that roughly 35% of the country's population is below the poverty line. But this has been a declining trend, considering that using the same yardstick, in the 60s perhaps half the country's population was below the poverty line. So is this an insignificant achievement, or could we have done much, much more?
AKS: Well I think that in judging it in terms of people's income, it is an achievement of some magnitude, and not to be dismissed. But I think the real thing to ask is how do we judge poverty and deprivation. You see, income is one of the means through which we satisfy our aims in life, namely getting the means of survival, good nourishment, being free from avoidable illnesses, living long, et cetera. Now judged in that perspective, the proportion of people who are... in the broader perspective, the proportion of people who are deprived, is of course very much larger. Now you mentioned 30% of the people have income below the poverty line. Now we know 50% of the Indian population are illiterate, we know that two-thirds of the women are illiterate. Now these are deprivations too, it is poverty of some kind, may not be of the income kind. And similarly, if we go by health conditions, there are a massive number who are deprived. For example, if you go by undernourishment, measured by various anthropometric criteria, and various things like weight for age, and height for age, and so on, India, and South Asia generally, has a higher rate of deprivations than any other region of the world, much higher than the rest of Asia, of course, but higher even than sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has lower extent of child undernourishment measured by these criteria, than India has. So, if you are looking at the lives that human beings are able to lead, and the deprivations that visit us, the deprivation and poverty are indeed very much closer, so that the point that I argued earlier, namely the need to focus on humanity rather than on some means like income, which is another one like other instrumentalities we were discussing earlier. Charts have the effect of making us overlook the extent of deprivation that we happen to have. Now, it is not the case that we haven't changed, I mean, after all, when the British left, the percentage of people who were literate was very much lower, 20% or below, and now it is 50% or higher. But you know, at the time of Independence, or just before Independence, if you asked me how long will India take to have universal literacy, the answer would have been, well, it will be very soon, and there was a scheme, I remember, the Sergeant Scheme, put forward in 1940, which would make India literate in 40 years, and the nationalist leaders rightly laughed it out of court, on the grounds that India did not have the patience to remain for 40 years without Universal Literacy. Now 50 years have gone by, and the country is still half illiterate, two-thirds of the women are illiterate! All these deprivations! In any case, what we have to look at is first of all, the extent of deprivation in human life, and not just in terms of income, and secondly, not just in that things are moving forward, which they are pretty much everywhere, ?? happens to be that that's the case, but adequately fast, and I don't think it is at all. I think the situation, in every respect, in education, health care and even in income deprivation, we could have made a bigger dent on poverty then we actually have done, and so I think there is a story of very great concern here.