The Planning Commission told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that Rs25 a day (Rs32 in urban areas) is “adequate” for Indians to get 1,200 calories of food, good health care and education and, therefore, Indians are not poor. Easy for a Commission to say such a thing because between the deputy chairperson and the members, they take home a neat sum of Rs10.25 lakh in salaries every month.
Add to that perks assured to them and the bill goes up by Rs5 lakh. This, because as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia has the status of a full cabinet minister and gets a salary that hovers around Rs1.10 lakh every month, give or take a few thousand.
His colleagues, the eight members in the commission, hold the rank and pay of a minister of state and draw something in the region of Rs1lakh. Add to that the salary of the lone minister of state, Ashwini Kumar, and you get a bill that would ensure food, health and education for 1,366 people every month if they stuck to the Rs25 per day bounty!
As deputy chairman, Ahluwalia also gets other perks, including a fully furnished rent-free home in Lutyens’ Delhi.
He gets medical treatment free of charge in government-maintained hospitals. Similarly, the other members of the Commission also enjoy all the perks that a minister of state is entitled to, and these usually add another Rs50,000 to their pay packages in monetary terms.
During UPA-1, they would have a party at the residence of a member on a rotational basis every weekend, a source in the Commission told DNA. Which is why, said sources, the Commission saw pitched battles between the members and the deputy chairman before this affidavit was filed.
“We have no idea who was pushing this affidavit but we do know that the prime minister did see it before it was filed in the Supreme Court,” one of the members of the Commission told DNA. Interestingly, the Suresh Tendulkar report that formed the basis for the affidavit was only an exercise to ascertain a methodology to assess the number of below poverty line families in India.
Instead, the Commission used it as the final word on deciding that a family has to starve to be eligible for a welfare scheme. “The Tendulkar committee was meant to just provide a comparable estimate so that policymakers can get an assessment of how to find out how many BPL families exist. How it became the basis for deciding on assessing who are poor is beyond me,” Mihir Shah, one of the members of the Planning Commission told DNA.
According to Shah, the actual data on who is poor can only come after the socio-economic survey undertaken by the ministry of social justice and empowerment gets over.
“That data will give us a more nuanced idea of what is the actual scale of poverty in India. It will show us different segments of the marginalised and give us specific data. Only after we get that data can we formulate a policy,” he said.