Counting India’s poor: Numbers suggest the Need for a Welfare State : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 08/12/2022

Relevance: GS-2: Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health; Hunger and Poverty related issues.

Key Phrases: Global Hunger Index, Calorie, Child wasting, Child stunting, Child mortality, Food Insecurity, Welfare State, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, UN Statistical Commission, UN Economic and Social Council, PMGKY.


  • Recently, FAO released the Global Hunger Index 2022 and this report has caused a lot of controversy with questions being raised as to what exactly we are talking about.

Key Highlights:

  • India ranks 107 out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index 2022.
  • There is a need to introspect on who exactly is poor in India. The concept is nebulous.

Counting the poor in India:

  • Calorie Concept
    • There was a time when calorie intake was the yardstick.
    • But converting only 2,400 calories a day into a monetary value was always challenging.
    • Besides, people cannot live with just calories. They need access to other amenities like housing, clothing, education and so on.
      • Hence the calorie concept, though a possible criteria, is not really workable today.
      • But,we need a broader concept.
  • Income Concept
    • The World Bank uses the concept of income per day, which is now taken at $1.90.
    • Roughly, this translates to Rs 160 a day in India, and for a family of four would mean Rs 640 a day.
    • On a monthly basis, this will come to around Rs 19,200 or Rs 2.3 lakh for a year.
    • Such an approach runs the risk of using a universal yardstick across the world which is not right.
    • While a weak currency can give a high value in India, this amount may be too low for a developed country (in the US a burger costs more than $1.90).
    • Besides, using either the calorie or income approach runs the risk of extrapolation as it is not possible to get these numbers for the entire population.
  • Income Tax Concept
    • Income tax data, while useful in indicating who pays tax, captures only a small segment as it leaves out the big universe of rural people.
    • Hence one cannot even use the Rs 2.5 lakh per annum criterion as a cutoff for measuring the poor.
  • Measuring by Government Schemes
    • The government has been aggressive in reaching out to the vulnerable during the pandemic, providing them free food as well as income through cash transfers.
    • This can be a good starting point to assess the population that requires support to maintain their minimum needs.
      • But, here the support has been limited to cash transfers or free food.
      • It does not cover education or health, which are supported through other schemes.
    • According to IBEF, the PMGKY covered 800 million people.
      • Intuitively, this means that nearly 60 per cent of the 1,350 million population required support from the government and would have found it hard to survive without that.
      • In fact, the National Portal of India in September 2020 had put out a statistic that 42 crore poor people benefited from PMGKY which means that around 30 per cent of the population was declared poor by this yardstick.
    • Significance-
      • The government programmes are structured well and the use of technology has ensured that there is targeted delivery of benefits.
      • Leakages can be ruled out.
    • Putting all these numbers together, the proportion of vulnerable people in the economy would range between 30 per cent to 60 percent.

Global Hunger Index

  • About:
    • It was created in 2006 and jointly published by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide using one of FAO’s statistics, among others, to compute its index.
    • The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool for comprehensively measuring and tracking hunger at global, regional, and national levels.
  • Key Component Indicators:
    • GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators:
      • Undernourishment (share of the population with insufficient caloric intake);
      • Child wasting (share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition);
      • Child stunting (share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition);
      • Child mortality (mortality rate of children under age five, partly reflecting the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments).
    • Based on the values of the four indicators, the GHI determines hunger on a 100-point scale where 0 is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst.

Key Finding of Global Hunger Index 2022

  • Ranks in South Asia:
    • India ranks 107 out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index in which it fares worse than all countries in South Asia barring war-torn Afghanistan.
  • Prevalence of undernourishment:
    • Prevalence of undernourishment has also risen in the country from 14.6% in 2018-2020 to 16.3% in 2019-2021.
  • Child wasting rate:
    • India’s child wasting rate at 19.3%, is worse than the levels recorded in 2014 (15.1%) and is the highest for any country in the world and drives up the region’s average owing to India’s large population.
  • Child stunting and child mortality:
    • India has shown improvement in these two indicators.
    • Child stunting has declined from 38.7% to 35.5% between 2014 and 2022,
    • Child mortality has also dropped from 4.6% to 3.3% in between 2014 and 2022.
  • Worsening GHI score:
    • India has shown a slight worsening with its GHI score increasing from 28.2 in 2014 to 29.1 in 2022.

Way Forward:

  • It can, hence, be said the size of the needy population is close to 60 per cent of the total with at least 30 per cent or half of this amount being most vulnerable.
    • In such a situation, it is but natural that the government has to assume the role of a welfare state.
    • But the focus has to be on job creation.
  • Agriculture in particular should be commercialized - the farm laws sought to do so.
    • State governments have a big role to play here.
  • Manufacturing has to be revived to create meaningful jobs.


  • A joint effort between the Centre and states is needed to push this welfare state agenda forward.

Source: Indian Express

Mains Question:

Q. Counting the numbers of India’s poor, It is a need of the hour to have a welfare state. Critically analyse the statement. (150 Words).