The Congress was put in a spot on Wednesday after party spokesperson Raj Babbar was asked to comment on the Rs 62 price tag for a thali at the party headquarters. Babbar, who was lauding the party for bringing down poverty in the country, was asked to explain the Planning Commission’s declaration that anyone who spends more than Rs 33 per day in urban areas is above the poverty line, especially when one meal at the Congress head quarters cost almost twice as much.
The actor-turned-politician shot back, saying that he knew of an eatery in Mumbai where one could get a meal for Rs 12. “The same should be true in Delhi and other places as well,” he added.
The party also defended rising prices by saying that it was due to an increase in the per capita expenditure of the general public.
The Planning Commission on Tuesday claimed that the number of poor in the country has come down in the past seven years. It added that for a family of five, the all India poverty line in terms of consumption expenditure would amount of Rs 4,080 per month in rural areas and Rs 5,000 per month in urban areas. The poverty line, however, would vary from state to state.
Armed with figures and charts, Babbar lauded the UPA government for bringing the poverty ratio to 21.9% in 2011-12 from 37.2% in 2004-05. But when asked how poverty could have decreased when latest indicators suggested an economic slowdown — owing to decrease in manufacturing, lowering of growth rate, decrease in exports and increase in unemployment ratio — he was at a loss for words.
The spokesperson also stressed that the poverty figures won’t have any impact on the UPA’s ambitious food security scheme: “The food security is not for only 21.9% or the 26.93 crore poor, but for the Aam Aadmi constituting 67% of the country’s population, or 81 crore to be exact, as it aims to tackle widespread malnutrition and not just hunger.”
Babbar also targeted the NDA, asking the media to contrast the continuous slide in the poverty rate during the UPA regime since 2004 (2.18% a year) as compared to the 0.74% during the previous NDA regime.
Explaining the increase in per capita expenditure per month in both urban and rural areas, he cited the example of Kerala, where the per capita expenditure went up from Rs 1,372 per month in 2004-05 to Rs 3,408 in 2011-12. During the same period, in Maharashtra it went up from Rs 1,259 to Rs 3,186, in Andhra Pradesh from Rs 1,102 to Rs 2,605 and in Tamil Nadu from Rs 1,131 to Rs 2,632.
BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said the government had deliberately released the poverty figures to tom-tom the so-called success of its economic policies by harping on the National Sample Survey (NSS) instead of waiting for the Rangarajan Committee. He also challenged any Congress member to prove how he or she could live on a daily income of Rs 33.