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An Essay on Poverty with reference to India

An Essay on Poverty with reference to India



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Published by Amit Bhushan
Ideas that may help to reduce poverty in India & enhance understanding on dynamics of poverty
Ideas that may help to reduce poverty in India & enhance understanding on dynamics of poverty

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Published by: Amit Bhushan on Aug 23, 2008
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An Essay on Poverty with reference toIndiaBy Amit Bhushan
Poverty is the state of human subsistence where one finds him unable to fullyparticipate in the process of production and fair trade, to earn suitable wages,enough to cover the cost of a healthy & hygienic living in a dignified way. A person inpoverty in not only denied a healthy & productive living standard in present, but he isalso unable to make good use of any evolving opportunity due to lack of adequateresources. Thus even the future generation of a person in poverty is condemned tolive in subsistence. Poverty not only gives an undignified present state of living butalso makes a person bereft of any hope to improve his lot without an externalsupport.Poverty can be attributed to many factors, each of which may have its own degree of distress. Chief causes of poverty are normally cited as lack of education marketable skills, high growth rate of population, lack of natural resources of production like agricultural land and mines, fiscal imprudence of the government,lack of entrepreneurship or ideas in a society, low rate of capital formation,casteism/racism, lack of infrastructure, inadequate investment or foreign investment,security environment etc. etc. However the most astonishing thing about suchdebates on poverty is that the debate usually shifts to identification of a chief cause/s & ways to tackle the same. This is basically trivialization of the wholedebate. It may also be pointed out that given the choice to people/policy makers toroot out poverty & say casteism, education or health, a lot of people would like togive much more priority to eliminate poverty. However, the truth is most of them areunable to structure & focus attention on poverty alone & digress to one of thecontributory causes with the result that poverty gets lesser attention. The basicrequirement is the need to understand the theorem or principle of poverty beforesuch a discussion can be conducted & led to its normal conclusion.Poverty is the result of inability of a society or any particular cross- section of asociety to participate in or share the means of production and engage in a fairexchange process on a sustainable basis. In simple words, this translates into eitherhindrance or a lack of empowerment of a cross-section of society to producemarketable goods & seek a suitable price in a free & fair manner. The term ‘free & fairin the previous sentence may be interpreted as something similar to “PureCompetition” as in economics where there is availability of a large number of sellers(or producers) & buyers, they have easy access to information & business canproceed in unhindered way i.e. transaction cost is low. In context of producers, thisalso means availability of a large number of producers with easy & unfettered accessto factors of production such as land, capital, manpower & other resources. Theimportant point is the emphasis on distribution of the means of production to ensureparticipation of a larger population & a fair trading process to ensure adequateremuneration. If a society embarks on such mission, the inequalities are bound toreduce, resulting in improvement in quality of living for a larger number of people,enhanced productivity & greater harmony. The contrast between USA & Japan maynot out of place to be quoted here. USA with much greater land, mineral & other
resources, houses a much higher proportion of people in poverty than Japan which islow on resource but has achieved a better distribution of resources (lowerinequality).Looking at the above, it is clear that the intention of the essay is to explore povertyas mainly an economic phenomenon, though the causes that contribute to povertymay be identified as social, political, regulatory or economic in nature. It is beingdone intentionally to keep the evolving discussion focused solely on poverty & not todigress to any one or more of the contributory cause & dilute the debate. This soundlogical as well because, though poverty of any cross-section of society of a particulargeography may be a result of a socio-political cause say casteism/racism; howeverthe cause essentially results in establishment of a regime of denial of the means of production & fair trade price. Such a regime of denial may be exercised by outrightrestriction, by lack of empowerment (no information or knowledge sharing) or byincreasing the cost of resource for that particular cross-section of the society. It alsoneeds to be understood that eliminating some of the causes of poverty might bemuch more cumbersome, politically risky to get support besides putting pressure onalready meager resources. Also, eliminating poverty might itself lead to a number of problem waning away of at least their impact might wane for the society.Then there is also the human problem of motivation, where a human being has anopportunity to exploit the means of production & get a fair market price, but doesnot feel tempted to do so. This could be a result of lack of ideas & information, ageneral state of gloominess, fear of exploitation & other similar factors. It maysometimes happen when the human subject has comfort of accumulated assets e.g.a doctor or an educationist may be unemployed or inadequately employed (lowwages) in an urban area, however does not feel tempted to explore a rural or a sub-urban area offering higher wages for employment. Also, poverty itself is a bigdetriment for the poverty struck person as it blocks many of his attempt to riseabove poverty due to inability to provide for the financial resources to do so e.g. aperson good at computers may not able to afford himself of proper training & seekbetter wages.A novice actor, which could be anyone including a state, a national or even amultilateral agency, can easily be tempted to start seeking solutions to one of thecauses of poverty while making an attempt to root out poverty from a region(because of the confusion around the poverty debate). It is easy to spot exampleswhere such agencies have put up or are putting up large infrastructure projects likeroads, dams etc., and setting up large number of primary schools & health carecenters or even distributing food & medicines, seeking investment /foreigninvestment, all in an attempt to defeat the menace of poverty. So far our experiencein India goes, it shows us that such attempts have either gone in vain or met withlimited success at best. No attempt is being made to undermine the need toeliminate causes like casteism, infrastructure, foreign investments bottlenecks etc.However it needs to be reemphasized that as far as the need to eliminate poverty isconcerned, a more focused attempt would yield much better results & improve wellbeing and harmony in the society. What is essentially required, is the need to createmore options for production, a better distribution of those options to seekparticipation of local population, ensure a fairer trading regime and motivate thepoverty-struck to take advantage of such production process more vigorously.Any concentrated attempt to root out poverty from any part of the geography shouldclearly plan & provide answers to the following three questions. What measures
should be adopted to create and deliver a larger number of resources to reach out toa larger number of people in the region? How to ensure unhindered access of theproduce of the region to its markets & ensure a fair price? And finally, what can bedone to ensure that a larger number of people feel motivated to participate in theproduction process?The above might sound Gandhian thinking laced in etymologically modern economiclexicon, however as the discussion evolves, the differences shall become morepronounced. Primary among them is the insistence on ensuring easy access tomarkets including international markets as opposed to self-sufficiency of villages andall things there under viz. adoption of new technology instead of traditionalproduction methods, encouragement to innovation & non-opposition to large projectsetc. The only point that is stated is that any project, rolled out in the name of poverty must be assessed based upon the answers to the questions in the previousparagraph. It should be looked if the project is helping in development of ecologywhere a larger number of people of the region can participate in the productionprocess during the construction as well as the operating phase of the project & it isan opportunity for them to get better pricing for their produce on a sustainable basis.Also, the project should be able to create a “Feel Good” factor where a larger numberof people in the region feel motivated to participate or contribute to the process. Letthere also be no doubt that the essay draws inspiration from the Gandhianphilosophy of “Production by masses” as core theme for the management of poverty.An economist might be tempted to argue that nearly all projects and policies wouldhave participation of people as well as would have to produce in order to qualifyfunding of the project by the government & sustain it. Also, a large project mighthave some displacement of people along with a clutch of production machinery of thelocal society; it may also have some adverse impact on small players in the sameindustry e.g. Textiles sector India. Also international phenomenon like globalizationwould have impact on local industry and employment. A large project might alsochange the way business is conducted to the detriment of players who are unable tochange their business practices. Should such projects & policies be necessary bequalified as detrimental to the economy & banished or can they be avoided at all.The idea of this essay is to highlight the flux in contemporary business environmentand co-opt the same along with the need to involve masses in the productionprocess. Now this might sound like utopia, quite preposterous for implementation.However, the idea of judging projects on the basis of three core questions along withother funding related requirements is politically palatable, humanly possible,measurable & monitorable. What essentially such a scheme does is it transfers therole of generating ideas from a central to a local level. Hereunder, a locality or localgovernment generates/selects local ideas (and is also responsible for implementingit), it is then evolves further through help from central or other agencies, theauthorities at center qualify or disqualify funding on such ideas and developsprogram for monitoring the same. If the selected idea is successful, the center mayshare & implement the idea at other regions where possible. Though planning,selection & funding of such ideas may become more time consuming (monitoring,more cumbersome), the implementation & impact of such scheme given theownership & stake of local players is likely to be much better then our presentsituation where a plethora of projects/policies are failing in the implementationphase.Now let’s venture to examine the role of Indian government & various agencies

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