During the time of independence in 1947, the percentage of our population under poverty line was a whopping 69%. Now, 70 years later, this dreaded number stands at about 21.5%, which is indeed a huge improvement, but yet far behind other countries around the globe.
Let’s go back to the start and all look at everything the government has done to bring India to the place in stands today.
1950s & 60s: Let’s get crackin’
During the initial years of India’s independence, the country was in disarray. However, by 1950, soon after the Indian Constitution was adopted, the Planning Commission was created with the primary objective of establishing social justice and reducing the unequal distribution of wealth.
Schemes like the Intensive Agricultural District Program (IADP) were introduced to address widespread famine issues. The main focus of the scheme was agricultural productivity and was the first initiative by the government primarily aiming at providing loans for seeds and fertilizers.
In 1962, a working group was formed to calculate the calories required by an individual for survival and the required income to buy those calories in different parts of rural India.
1970s & 80s: This is not working, we need to up our game
This decade was mainly focused on eradicating poverty and creating jobs and employment opportunities. As the Indira Gandhi Government came into power with its ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan, poverty eradication schemes were targeted towards the poorest of the poor. Schemes like Crash Scheme for Rural Employment (CSRE) and Tribal Area Development Programmes (TADP) aimed at creating employment.
CSRE focused on providing employment (labor intensive jobs like afforestation, minor irrigation, soil conservation, etc.) to 1000 people from selected districts of the tribal areas for 10 months in a year. TADP focused on uplifting tribal people by including them in economic development programmes like agriculture, land development and animal husbandry.
In the late 1970s, the government began encouraging self-starters. While the first few schemes focused on developing the conditions of farmers and agricultural laborers, the second wave was aimed at uplifting the general rural poor. Schemes like Small Farmers Development Agencies (SFDA) and Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Laborers Development Agency (MFALDA) aimed at assisting farmers to increase their agricultural produce by adopting effective minor irrigation techniques, securing loans and arranging supplies necessary for the same.
The Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment Scheme (TRYSEM) focused on training and technical skill building for younger (18-35), men and women from rural areas. A year later, the Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP) was launched, as a form of social assistance that allowed banks to provide loans and subsidised assets to farmers to enable them to build their own businesses.
1990s: Get over Socialism, let Capitalism do the talking
The 90s witnessed increased focus on scientific and technological advancement, efficiency in production, a liberal economy and global competitive markets. Poverty was redefined under capitalism in terms of purchasing power.
The Rajiv Gandhi Government put an emphasis on food, work and productivity, as a way to get rid of poverty and favored private organizations in implementing poverty alleviation programmes.
An improved employment programme (by merging the previous schemes) was introduced through Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY). This scheme underwent many changes in the following years with increased budgetary allocations by adding food, housing and employment into the mix.
National Old Age Pension Scheme, National Family Benefit Scheme and National Maternity Benefit Scheme were some of the anti-poverty schemes introduced during the 1990s, which helped disadvantaged people like elderly, widows, physically handicapped, families with deceased bread earners and pregnant women by giving them money to survive.
In 1997, under the leadership of Inder Kumar Gujral, the Public Distribution System for food grains was made efficient by issuing cards for BPL families, so that food grains would reach the people who were actually in need.
2000s & 2010s: It’s time for access to credit
This period saw the introduction of schemes addressing particular issues like illiteracy, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, lack of communication and connectivity, lack of access to banks, etc.
The 2000s witnessed an updated version of schemes like JRY in the form of Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana. Quality education irrespective of gender or class was being ensured through schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
Initiatives like the construction of schools, additional classrooms, toilets, drinking water, more trained teachers, provision of free textbooks and uniforms were adopted. A Supreme Court ruling in 2001 made it mandatory for schools to provide cooked meals to students under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
Food for Work was another scheme that aimed at eradicating hunger, malnutrition and unemployment in one go.
Introduced under Manmohan Singh’s governance, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been the largest and most ambitious project for rural development. It enabled establishing a social security scheme that provided guaranteed employment for at least 100 days.
But even MGNREGA was subject to criticism, as farming became an increasingly expensive activity under it and corruption in the execution seemed rampant.
In 2010, focus on the quality of life in terms of access to loans, insurance, housing, infrastructure and their identification through Aadhar cards began. Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) were all the government’s efforts to make loans and insurance available to all citizens. Schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) aim to provide overall development of quality housing and rural infrastructure.
The popular scheme Digital India was brought in by the government to put everyone, including BPL people on the communication grid with digitisation through internet and phone connectivity at affordable rates.
Where are we now?
There’s no doubt that the Indian Government has tried their hand at eradicating poverty. Though some were successful, others fizzled. What is yet to be seen is how the future turns out to be for these schemes as well as the people they target. With the introduction of newer schemes, do you think we will be able to eradicate poverty by 2030?