Is India’s Multidimensional Poverty Decline in Rural Areas a Sustainable Success Story?

Introduction:

In a significant achievement, India has made substantial progress in tackling poverty, not only in monetary terms but also in addressing multidimensional factors affecting the standard of living. The latest National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) released by NITI Aayog reveals a heartening statistic that nearly 13.5 crore people have been lifted out of poverty in the five-year period until 2019-2021. This accomplishment is attributed to the government’s targeted policies, schemes, and development programs that focused on enhancing various aspects of human well-being.

Key Highlights

1) NITI Aayog’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for India shows a steep decline in multidimensional poverty from 24.85% to 14.96% between 2015­-16 and 2019­-21.

2) Around 135.5 million people have risen above the poverty line during this period.

3) Extreme poverty, as measured by the Intensity of Poverty, has also decreased from 47.14% to 44.39%.

4) In rural regions, the incidence of poverty declined from 32.59 % to 19.28 % , while in urban regions, it reduced from 8.65 % to 5.27 %.

5) Positive changes in rural areas include increased ‘pucca’ or semi­-pucca houses, widespread smartphone usage, and a shift from bicycles to motorbikes as the primary means of transport.

6) Challenges in rural India include rural-to-urban migration, addiction to tobacco/gutka/liquor, excessive phone usage, and sanitation issues.

7) Proposed solutions include creating more employment opportunities near villages, curbing addiction through awareness campaigns, addressing excessive phone usage, and focusing on waste management in villages.

Understanding Multidimensional Poverty:

Traditionally, poverty estimation primarily focused on income as the sole indicator. However, this approach drew criticism for overlooking the impact of non-monetary factors on people’s overall well-being.
In response to these limitations, NITI Aayog, taking inspiration from the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index created by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), implemented the National Multidimensional Poverty Index. This index considers various deprivations in health, education, and living standards, taking into account their overlapping effects.

Key Differences from Traditional Measures:

The National MPI, similar to its global counterpart, consists of three dimensions: Health, Education, and Standard of Living, each carrying equal weight. These dimensions are assessed through 12 indicators, including nutrition, child and adolescent mortality, maternal health, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, assets, and bank accounts. By considering this wide array of indicators, the National MPI provides a more comprehensive assessment of poverty, capturing the multi-faceted challenges faced by vulnerable populations.

Findings of the NITI Aayog Report:

The recent NITI Aayog report on multidimensional poverty in India brings encouraging news. Over the span of five years from 2015 to 2021, India made remarkable progress in addressing multidimensional poverty, as evidenced by improvements in all 12 indicators. The national MPI value saw a significant reduction, nearly halving from 0.117 to 0.066. This resulted in a considerable decline in the proportion of the population living in multidimensional poverty, dropping from 24.85 % to 14.96 %.

The decline of 9.89 percentage points indicates that around 135.5 million people (approximately 13.5 crore) experienced an improvement in their living conditions, moving out of poverty over the span of five years. Moreover, the Intensity of Poverty, which measures the average level of deprivation among those who were previously in multidimensional poverty, also decreased from 47.14% to 44.39%.

The positive impact of poverty alleviation efforts was evident both in rural and urban areas. In rural regions, the incidence of poverty declined from 32.59 % to 19.28%, while in urban regions, it reduced from 8.65% to 5.27%.

States Leading the Way:

Several states played a pivotal role in contributing to India’s progress against multidimensional poverty. Uttar Pradesh, with 3.43 crore people moving out of multidimensional poverty, witnessed the steepest decline, closely followed by Bihar (2.25 crore) and Madhya Pradesh (1.36 crore).

Causes of Reduction in Multidimensional Poverty:

The NITI Aayog report attributes this significant reduction in multidimensional poverty to the government’s targeted policies, schemes, and development programs. Initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, Poshan Abhiyan, PM Ujwala, and Jan Dhan Yojana have been instrumental in addressing various aspects of poverty and improving the standard of living for millions of Indians.

Positive Changes in Rural Areas:

  1. Reduction in Multidimensional Poverty: The significant reduction in multidimensional poverty indicates a positive transformation in the lives of people in rural India. The improvement in health, education, and living standards has contributed to this decline, thereby enhancing the overall well-being of individuals and families.
  2. Infrastructure Development: Rural areas have witnessed notable progress in infrastructure development. The rise in ‘pucca’ or semi­-pucca houses reflects improved housing conditions and access to better living facilities. Furthermore, the proliferation of smartphones has bridged the digital divide, providing rural residents with access to information and communication technologies. The shift from bicycles to motorbikes as the primary means of transport signifies improved mobility and transportation options in rural communities.
  3. Education and Aspirations: The increased school attendance of girls represents a positive change in societal attitudes towards education and gender equality. The availability of modern amenities, such as DJ systems and videography at weddings, reflects changing aspirations and an overall rise in disposable income in rural areas.

Challenges and Concerns:

  1. Rural to Urban Migration: While the decline in poverty is a positive indicator, rural-to-urban migration has become a prominent challenge. A large number of houses in villages are now locked as a result of migration, leading to an acute shortage of labor in agriculture and other sectors. Farming, particularly in vegetable cultivation, is affected due to labor scarcity, resulting in lower productivity and economic loss for farmers.
  2. Addiction Issues: Another concerning issue is the rising prevalence of addiction to tobacco, gutka, and liquor. These habits not only adversely impact people’s health but also reduce their ability to work and contribute to the local economy. The availability of liquor, legally or illegally, in almost every village has exacerbated this problem, necessitating immediate intervention.
  3. Excessive Phone Usage: The rapid increase in the usage of smartphones and social media apps in rural areas has raised concerns about its consequences. People of all age groups spend a significant part of their day on these platforms, leading to adverse effects on physical and mental health. Additionally, this excessive phone usage has also damaged the social fabric in villages, contributing to crimes against women and Scheduled Castes. Moreover, misinformation campaigns and the spread of rumors have also become challenges to address.
  4. Sanitation and Hygiene: Although the Swachh Bharat Mission has resulted in the construction of toilets in rural homes, the proper disposal of waste and maintenance of cleanliness in common areas of villages continue to be problematic. This lack of proper waste management poses environmental and health hazards, requiring urgent attention.

Way Forward:

  1. Employment Opportunities: To mitigate the challenges posed by rural-to-urban migration, it is essential to create more employment opportunities near villages. Encouraging investments in rural industries and providing skill development programs can help retain labor in rural areas, thus enhancing agricultural productivity and boosting the local economy.
  2. Curbing Addiction: Efforts to curb the availability of tobacco products and liquor are necessary to address addiction issues. Strict enforcement of regulations, along with awareness campaigns highlighting the adverse effects of these substances, can promote healthier lifestyles and contribute to a more productive workforce.
  3. Awareness Campaigns: Raising awareness about the negative impact of excessive internet usage, especially social media, is vital. Conducting educational programs to inform people about the potential consequences on physical and mental health, as well as the spread of misinformation, can help reduce the harmful effects of phone addiction.
  4. Swachh Abhiyan 2.0: Launching a new phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission with a focus on waste management at the village level is essential to tackle the issue of cleanliness and hygiene effectively. This should involve community participation, proper waste segregation, and recycling initiatives to ensure a cleaner and healthier rural environment.

NITI Aayog’s Role:

As the premier policy think tank in India, NITI Aayog plays a crucial role in formulating and implementing policies to address the identified challenges. Engaging with various stakeholders, including government bodies, NGOs, and local communities, will be critical to drawing up a comprehensive blueprint that tackles the issues at hand. NITI Aayog’s expertise and experience can facilitate active stakeholder consultation, leading to the development of effective and sustainable solutions for the economic upliftment of rural India.

Conclusion:

The decline in multidimensional poverty in rural India is a positive indicator of progress, driven by targeted development initiatives. However, challenges related to migration, addiction, excessive phone usage, and sanitation require urgent attention. By implementing strategies such as creating more employment opportunities, curbing addiction, promoting awareness, and focusing on waste management, NITI Aayog can foster holistic economic upliftment. Emphasizing both economic and social initiatives will contribute to meaningful and lasting improvements in the lives of rural communities, ensuring a more inclusive and prosperous India.

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