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  Nutritional Norms for Poverty: Issues and Implications Concept paper prepared for the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty M.H. Suryanarayana E-mail: Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research Gen. A.K. Vaidya Marg, Goregaon East Mumbai 400 065   i Nutritional Norms for Poverty Issues and Implications M.H. Suryanarayana Abstract Since Independence, an era marked largely by limited income and growth, the Government of India has been pursuing its policies for economic welfare with reference to a nutrition-based subsistence norm. The concept and method of estimating poverty has come in for criticism in recent years in the context of (i) economic policy reforms based on targeted policy interventions; and (ii) the findings on economic growth involving a decline in poverty along with an increase in calorie deprivation. The debate seems to have overlooked issues concerned with both method and norm. This study therefore examines the following questions: What is the status of real consumer expenditures of the poorer decile groups during the past three decades? What do estimates of cereal quantities consumed for different population groups suggest? How far they tally with such estimates for the total population? What have been the temporal changes in calorie intake across different decile groups? How valid are the exogenous norms for threshold levels of calorie intake worked out in the 1960s and 1970s since when the economy has experienced structural and technological changes and improvements? How far the self- perception of the population with reference to adequacy of food consumption corroborates such findings? How far these measures and interpretations are validated by estimates of final health outcome parameters? Per capita calorie intake in general has declined for the richer sections and increased for the  poorer ones, though not sufficiently, in both rural and urban India. Similar profiles are found across states with differences in income percentiles at which they converge. Reductions in calorie intake have taken place almost on a sustained basis for the majority, the higher decile groups in particular, for the past three decades. This should have spelt a worsening health disaster, which has not happened. State wise profiles on calorie intake and deprivation reveal little co-variation with related health outcome parameters. This might be because of either compensating changes in diets and related health parameters, which calls for serious academic attention or irrelevance of energy as the major determinant of physical capability and health. It is difficult on the basis of available information and knowledge to explain the observed relationship among income/consumption, calorie intake and health outcomes. In other words, calorie norm may no longer be relevant today for defining the minimum subsistence. Hence, one could explore alternative options for distributional outcome evaluation. With the country transforming itself into one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it is important to set sights high for not only sustaining the growth process but also make it  broad based and inclusive as visualized in the Eleventh Five Year Plan. Such improvements may be measured in terms of a robust order-based average like the median. Inclusion (participation) of the relatively deprived in such a growth process may be defined with reference to the order-based average of the outcome measure, that is, assess their economic status with reference to a threshold, specified as a function of the median income/consumption.   1 Nutritional Norms for Poverty Issues and Implications M.H. Suryanarayana Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research Mumbai 1. Introduction 1.1 The concept of poverty and estimates of its magnitude and profile are quite relevant in the context of policy formulation, its process and outcome evaluation. It matters most in a country low-income developing country like India, which has been pursuing development strategies and policy programmes for ‘Growth with Poverty Reduction’. Consistent with this policy concern, the concept of poverty and norm for its definition has evolved over time depending upon information availability, prevailing exigencies,  policy imperatives and priorities. 1.2 One important norm used consistently for defining poverty line relates to nutrition, the energy intake criterion in particular. The Government of India (GoI) has been using a minimum dietary energy requirement norm of 2400 kcal per person per day for the rural sector and 2100 kcal for the urban sector while the Food Agricultural Orgnisaion norm for India as a whole for 2003-05 is 1770 kcal. 1  1.3 With economic growth and development involving structural and technological changes, observed consumption patterns have changed. This could be reflecting changes in minimum nutritional requirements.  2  The GoI has also recognized that  physical activity level and energy requirement has declined over the decades and the Indian Council of Medical Research has reconstituted its Expert Committee to review the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Indians (GoI 2002a). Therefore, it appears it is time for revisions in the norm for or even the concept of poverty. 1.4 This study, therefore, raises some relevant issues and examines them from an economic perspective. To begin with, it would examine how did the Indian approach, official in particular, to defining and measuring poverty srcinate and evolve over time? What are the major issues regarding the nutritional basis for poverty measurement highlighted in academic and policy debates in India? How valid are these debates in terms of their methodological basis and data relevance? What are the issues relevant today? What is the possible solution? 1.5 This concept paper is structured in the same order as the questions listed above and ends with a final section on the main recommendation. 3   1  The FAO norms are changed periodically; they were 1740 for the period 1990-92 and 1750 for 1995-97 (see   2  See Suryanarayana (2003b) and Suryanarayana and Silva (2007). 3  The Terms of Reference for the concept paper is available in Annexure I to this paper.   2 2. Defining Poverty: Indian Approach 2.1 In India, the official approach to define and measure poverty for purposes of policy formulation and evaluation in the context of a strategy for poverty reduction has  provided much of the impetus for academic as well as policy related studies on issues concerned with definition, measurement, interpretation, policy choice and evaluation. The official approach has laid emphasis on ensuring a subsistence minimum and hence, on eradicating absolute poverty. 2.2 The approach has evolved as follows: 2.2.1 A decade prior to India’s Independence, the National Planning Committee in 1936 under Pundit Nehru made an economic review and recognized that “there was lack of food, of clothing, of housing and of every other essential requirement of human existence” (Nehru, 1946). Against this assessment, the Committee declared that the development policy objective should be to “ensure an adequate standard of living for the masses, in other words, to get rid of the appalling poverty of the people” (Nehru 1946). Towards this end, the Committee defined goals for the total population in terms of nutrition (involving a balanced diet of 2400 to 2800 calories per adult worker), clothing (30 yards per capita per annum) and housing (100 sq. ft per capita). 2.2.2 After the first two five year plans, the Government appointed a Committee on Distribution of Income and Levels of Living for an outcome evaluation from the distributional perspective. The Government also set up a working group, which defined a national minimum of Rs 20 per capita per month (Rs 25 for urban areas) at 1960/61 prices (GoI 1962). This minimum, considered adequate to ensure minimum energy requirements for an active and healthy life and also minimum clothing and shelter, did not include expenditures on health and education, which are to be  provided by the State as per the Indian Constitution. 4  2.2.3 The Government of India prepared a ‘Perspective of Development: 1961-1976’ keeping this minimum of Rs 20 per capita per month at 1960/61 prices as the goal for the fifth five year plan. This was based on the explicit acknowledgement that “the minimum which can be guaranteed is limited by the size of the total product and the extent of redistribution which is feasible” (GoI 1962). The Perspective unambiguously stated that (i) poverty removal should be the central concern of  planning in India; (ii) every citizen should be assured of a minimum income within a reasonable period of time; and (iii) the minimum itself should be revised upwards with economic progress ( ibid.  p. 13). 2.2.4 The Government set up a Task Force on Projection of Minimum Needs and Effective Consumption Demand to consolidate academic research and information on the subject and develop it further to facilitate drafting of the Sixth Five Year Plan (GoI, 1979b; p. 4). The Task Force defined the poor as those whose per capita consumption expenditure lies below the midpoint of the monthly per capita expenditure class having a daily calorie intake of 2,400 in rural areas and 2,100 in 4  It was Dandekar and Rath (1971), which was probably the first attempt to define an income/consumer expenditure norm for poverty with reference to an explicit average daily per capita calorie intake norm of 2250 kcals for both rural and urban areas.
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