Living Rich at Rs.1300

My first job was in Mysore, a leafy, quiet town situated about 150 km south west of Bangalore. I went there without much money and used to receive my salary (of Rs. 1300) in cash. I was staying in a bachelor’s accommodation and one month somebody stole my salary money from the cupboard. For the next one month, I lived on the mercy of some my friends and the sympathetic employer. Too proud to ask more favours than received, I tried to shrink my expenditure as much as possible. Since my only expense was food bill, I had to get as creative as possible. However, I was left with just 20 rupees on the last week before the next salary arrived. First two days I ate set dosas for lunch and curd rice for dinner. The next three days had a few slices of bread for lunch. I skipped breakfast on all days. On the salary day, I had a rupee and some loose change.

This was in 1992. For a single person in a small town to live within 20 rupees was a great struggle even two decades ago. Translated, the money works out to less than 5 rupees per day.

And today, in 2013, two central ministers assured us that we can buy a meal for 12 rupees in Mumbai, 5 rupees in Delhi, and just one rupee in, perhaps, Srinagar.

When the controversy raged on, the UPA government assured us that this classification of poverty will no way affect the welfare programmes. They did not elaborate on what the purpose of this study then was. Not long ago, Sheila Dixit informed us that a family of five can live on 35 rupees per day.

Why are they doing all these studies? How many men, many of them experts and skilled researchers, would have spent days and weeks into this exercise? Why did they have to be pressed into this seemingly futile exercise if this data was not going to be relevant to their policy-making? If the welfare programmes are going to continue as is without any connection to this data, why publish this despicable data at all?

For a few weeks now, The Hindu has been running a campaign to reclaim city’s footpaths. One of their plans was to make our politicians and policymakers to walk from point A to point B in the city only through the footpath. I’m not sure if that was tried. Considering the state of our footpaths, I doubt if any politician was foolish enough to agree to that challenge.

Should we not now request some of our policymakers to try living for a month in the figure they have set for poverty ratio? The Planning Commission has set Rs. 1000 as the limit for urban areas. I will give slightly increase it to Rs. 1300, my first salary, and ask them to live for a month. They can perhaps try doing it in Mysore. The weather is quite pleasant out there.