The Brief History of Poverty Counting in India

One of the most persistent problems facing the world’s nations, poverty has been the subject of much discussion and analysis in India for a number of years. We go into the complex historical history of poverty measurement in India in this investigation, paying close attention to the development of approaches, overcoming obstacles, and analyzing the resulting influence on policymaking.

Early Endeavors:

India’s odyssey in gauging poverty commenced in the early post-independence epoch. The inaugural official poverty line, birthed in 1962 by the Planning Commission, sought to estimate the populace dwelling beneath the poverty line. The initial methodology predominantly fixated on income levels, scrutinizing the fundamental requisites essential for a modicum of standard living.

The Planning Commission’s Poverty Line:

The poverty line ordained by the Planning Commission metamorphosed into a yardstick for subsequent decades. Primarily anchored in calorie consumption, it delineated poverty in terms of the minimal calories indispensable for subsistence. Despite its quantitative precision, this methodology encountered censure for its perceived oversimplification, neglecting regional disparities in living expenditures.

Trends in Measurement:

The trajectory unfolded a shift from an exclusively income-centric approach to a more intricate multidimensional paradigm. The Tendulkar Committee, in 2009, introduced a revamped poverty line, assimilating not only calorie intake but also factoring in expenditures on health and education. This shift aspired to encapsulate a more nuanced comprehension of poverty, encompassing diverse facets contributing to an individual’s well-being.

The Lakdawala Committee:

In 1993, the inception of the Lakdawala Committee aimed to reevaluate the poverty line. A groundbreaking methodology emerged, assimilating consumer expenditure surveys and embracing a basket of goods and services to ascertain poverty levels. This signified a departure from the preceding calorie-centric approach, acknowledging the significance of a more extensive array of parameters.

Challenges in Poverty Estimation:

Despite endeavors to refine poverty estimation methodologies, challenges endured. A notable obstacle was the quandary of underreported income, particularly prevalent in rural domains. Additionally, the dynamic nature of poverty mandated periodic revisions to the poverty line, mirroring the flux in economic conditions and living standards.

The Introduction of the National Sample Survey (NSS):

The National Sample Survey emerged as a linchpin in poverty estimation in India. Administered by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the NSS furnishes invaluable insights into consumption patterns, income distribution, and poverty thresholds. This data assumes paramount importance in sculpting policies geared towards assuaging poverty.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI):

Realizing the limitations of income-based measures, India has adopted a multifaceted strategy to combat poverty. A paradigm shift was brought about by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the UNDP with the creation of the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI provides a comprehensive understanding of poverty by taking into account variables including living standards, health, and education.

Recent Developments:

In recent years, the canvas of poverty quantification in India has witnessed further refinement. The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011 sought to encapsulate a panoramic tableau of households, scrutinizing not merely income but also assets and living conditions. This dataset has proven instrumental in tailoring precise policy interventions.


The chronicles of poverty measurement in India describe a journey marked by transformation and adjustment. The approaches have changed from being income-centric and simplistic to using multidimensional indices and providing a more complex understanding of poverty. With India continuing to struggle with poverty, historical wisdom highlights the need for innovative and all-encompassing approaches for developing effective strategies to reduce poverty.

The historical odyssey of poverty quantification in India underscores an unwavering commitment to refining methodologies and espousing a multidimensional comprehension of poverty. In navigating the intricate landscape of poverty alleviation, the insights from the past serve as invaluable signposts for forthcoming endeavors.

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