Measuring Poverty/Poor Indicators

  • 14/05/2002

When poverty is endemic, it is very hard to select a few districts that ideally should be the poorest of the poor. "It is difficult to identify the poorest districts as the lists prepared by government agencies or independent institutions cannot claim to be entirely correct due to their arbitrary parameters. Parameters concerned to the people of specific area are important," says Jean Dreze, honorary professor, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics, New Delhi.

Down To Earth primarily sourced districts from a list of 100 poorest districts in India prepared by the Planning Commission. But to make the list a more wide in geographical area and also to get those districts that have reported large-scale environmental degradation, a host of other indicators were taken into finalise the 10 poorest districts.

STEP I: The Planning Commission"s list of 100 poorest districts was compared to the the National Sample Survey Organisation"s (NSSO) ranking of the 10 poorest states.

STEP II: Experts and state planning boards consulted to check out every district for their poverty ratio and also their ecological wealth. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy"s districts profile was checked for every district"s resources base.

STEP III: The Forest Survey of India report on forest cover and India"s first survey of common property resources were used to assess the environmental degradation. The Food Insecurity Atlas of India of the M S Swaminathan Foundation, Chennai, was employed to know further the food security scenario and also the environmental sustainability of these districts.

STEP IV: A list of 13 districts from nine states is finally prepared and World Bank developed poverty-environment indicators to judge the relationship between the two is applied to these districts. Out of these 13, 10 districts were chosen for reporting of which six have been profiled in this article.

India’s 10 poorest states
Number and percentage of population below poverty line (Rural) by states, 1999-2000 (30-day recall period)
States Absolute no.
(in lakhs)
Per cent
of people
Orissa 143.69 48.01
Bihar 376.51 44.30
Assam 92.17 40.04
Madhya Pradesh 217.32 37.06
Uttar Pradesh 412.01 31.22
West Bengal 180.11 31.85
Maharashtra 125.12 23.72
Tamil Nadu 80.51 20.55
Rajasthan 55.06 13.74
Andhra Pradesh 58.13 11.05
Expert Group on poverty estimation (poverty estimates for 1999-2000), Planning Commission, Government of India, PIB release dated 22nd February, 2001

1. States having 5 million or more as absolute poor have been ranked from the full list of all states.

2. Expert Group Method: The poverty line at all India level is worked out from the expenditure class-wise distribution of persons and the poverty ratio at all- India level. The poverty ratio at all-India level is obtained as the weighted average of the state-wise poverty ratio.

State Districts Poverty-environment link based on above indicators
Jharkhand Palamu Deforestation, soil degradation: district level earning has gone down by 50 per cent due to it in the last seven years. Has resulted into health problems like malaria.
MP Mandla Deforestation and less MFPs: severe food insecurity makes this district as the one of the worst as far as women health is concerned.
Chattisgarh Sarguja Collapse of the tribal economy based on land and forest: land alienation and resulting poverty.
Maharashtra Dhule Water scarcity and loss of soil fertility: Severe impact on agriculture and health. Last year 300-400 children died due to malnutrition.
Orissa Phulbani

Collapse of hills ecology: deforestation, soil erosion and water scarcity.
Rayagada is considered as India’s most food insecure district despite rich forest, land and water resources (and of course all of these are fast degrading) and a decade of World Food Programme’s intervention.
Rajasthan Banswara

Total ecological degradation (forest, water, land): Considered as Rajasthan’s 20th century desert.
A 100 per cent tribal district and rich with fertile land but fluoride mines not only spoil land but also contaminate the ground water. The whole district is crippled with fluorosis and is now the poorest.
UP Banda UP’s poorest district and is due to land related problems.
AP Ananthpur The second driest district in India and India’s largest concentration of groundnut cultivation in one district. Off late groundnut farmers have been committing suicide.
Bihar Champaran From here Gandhiji started a major movement for rural development but now it is one of the three poorest districts: loss of commons, land alienation and floods.
The poverty-environment indicators are to answer: how do environmental factors impact the lives of the poor and poverty reduction efforts? How resource loss can act as a detriment of poverty?

Because: Natural resource degradation can affect the poor by affecting the productivity of inputs they use to grow food, by directly reducing the forest and aquatic products they consume, and by decreasing the ability of natural resources to provide a cushion to poor people during times when monetary income or agricultural produce is unavailable. Natural resources are sometimes the only assets to which poor people have access.

Income and opportunity 1. Percentage of rural population below poverty line
2. Time spent by household members to collect water and fuel wood.
3. Quantity of annual household consumption derived from common lands.
4. Quantity of annual household consumption that is derived from forest products and fisheries.
Water scarcity
Over fishing
Food security 1. Rural per capita cereal production
2. Percentage of farmers who grow drought resistant crops by income/wealth quintals.
3. Quantity of household consumption that is derived from forest products and fisheries.
4. Percentage of rural children under five who are underweight.
5. Percentage of rural children under five who are stunted
6. Percentage of rural children under five who are wasted.
Land degradation
Water scarcity
Pest outbreak
Natural disasters
Over fishing
(for 1-3 indicators)
Land degradation
Water scarcity
Water quality

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