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Below Poverty Line

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Below Poverty Line

Below Poverty Line is an economic benchmark and poverty threshold used by the government of India to indicate economic disadvantage and to identify individuals and households in need of government assistance and aid. It is determined using various parameters which vary from state to state and within states. The present criteria are based on a survey conducted in 2002. Going into a survey due for a decade, India's central government is undecided on criteria to identify families below poverty line.[1]

Internationally, an income of less than $1.25 per day per head of purchasing power parity is defined as extreme poverty. By this estimate, about 21.92% percent of Indians are extremely poor. Income-based poverty lines consider the bare minimum income to provide basic food requirements; it does not account for other essentials such as health care and education.


Criteria are different for rural and urban areas. In its Tenth Five-Year Plan, the degree of deprivation is measured with the help of parameters with scores given from 0–4, with 13 parameters. Families with 17 marks or less (formerly 15 marks or less) out of a maximum 52 marks have been classified as BPL.Poverty line solely depends on the per capita income in India rather than level of prices.[2][3]

Ninth Plan

In its Ninth Five-Year Plan (1995–2002), BPL for rural areas was set at annual family income less than Rs. 20,000, less than two hectares land, and no television or refrigerator. The number of rural BPL families was 650,000 during the 9th Plan. The survey based on this criterion was again carried out in 2002 and the total number of 387,000 families were identified. This figure was in force until September 2006.[2]

Tenth Plan (2002–2007)

In its Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002–2007) survey, BPL for rural areas was based on the degree of deprivation in respect of 13 parameters, with scores from 0–4: landholding, type of house, clothing, food security, sanitation, consumer durables, literacy status, labour force, means of livelihood, status of children, type of indebtedness, reasons for migrations, etc.

The Planning Commission fixed an upper limit of 326,000 for rural BPL families on the basis of simple survey. Accordingly families having less than 15 marks out of maximum 52 marks have been classified as BPL and their number works out to 318,000. The survey was carried out in 2002 and thereafter but could not be finalised due to a stay issued by the Supreme Court of India. The stay was vacated in February 2006 and this survey was finalised and adopted in September 2006. This survey formed the basis for benefits under government of India schemes. The state governments are free to adopt any criteria/survey for state-level schemes.[2]

In its Tenth Five-Year Plan BPL for urban areas was based on degree of deprivation in respect of seven parameters: roof, floor, water, sanitation, education level, type of employment, and status of children in a house. A total of 125,000 upper families were identified as BPL in urban area in 2004. It has been implemented since then.[2]


The government of Kerala is one of the few state governments which has formulated its own criteria.

In Kerala there are nine parameters. Families which lack access to four or more parameters are classified as BPL.

The nine parameters for urban areas are:

  • No land or less than five cents of land
  • No house or dilapidated house
  • No sanitation latrine
  • Family without colour television
  • No regular employed person in the family
  • No access to safe drinking water
  • Women-headed household or presence of widows or divorcee
  • Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SC/ST)
  • Mentally retarded or disabled member in the family

The nine parameters for rural areas are the same, but the colour television criterion is replaced by "family with an illiterate adult member" criterion.[2]

Income based poverty line in India

The poverty line was originally fixed in terms of income/food requirements in 1978. It was stipulated that the calorie standard for a typical individual in rural areas was 2400 calorie and was 2100 calorie in urban areas. Then the cost of the grains (about 650 gms) that fulfil this normative standard was calculated. This cost was the poverty line. In 1978, it was Rs.61.80 per person per month for rural areas and Rs.71.30 for urban areas. Since then the Planning Commission calculates the poverty line every year adjusting for inflation. The poverty line in recent years is as follows – (Rs. per month per head)

Year India rural India urban
2000–2001 328 454
2005–2006 368 560

This income is bare minimum to support the food requirements and does not provide much for the other basic essential items like health, education etc. That is why some times the poverty lines have been described as starvation lines.[2]

Fixing of cut-off marks at 17

The Socio Economic Survey conducted during 2002 was based on 13 Socio economic indicators (enlisted by Government of India ) indicating the quality of life and by Score based ranking for all households. Each of the indicators have 0–4 marks. Thus for 13 indicators, the tentative marks obtained by the families are from 0–52 for all the Districts. The Supreme Court of India in Writ Petition No. 196/2001 filed by People's Union for Civil Liberties, the result of Below Poverty Line census 2002 need not be finalised. Later in October 2005 the Government of India informed that based on the advice given by the Additional Solicitor General, it has been decided to finalise the results of Below Poverty Line Census 2002 without deleting the Below Poverty Line families already existing in the Below Poverty Line list of Below Poverty Line Census 1997 and to follow the following procedure for finalisation of Below Poverty Line list.

  1. Preparation of Below Poverty Line list
  2. Approval in Gram Sabha
  3. Appeal to Block Development Officer and Collector.
  4. Display of Final List

The Government of India then decided that the Below Poverty Line list for 2002 could be finalised as per original guidelines. The Director of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj stated that in the Below Poverty Line survey done in 1991 out of 8,433,000 Rural families 3,446,000 families were identified as Below Poverty Line families. In the Below Poverty Line survey done in the year 1999 out of 9,388,000 rural families 2,737,000 families were identified as Below Poverty Line families. He has stated that if the cut off mark is fixed as 16 the total number of families would be 2,548,000 families against the total families of 8,665,000 which is lesser than the number of families indicated by Government of India viz. 2,677,000 families. If the cut off mark is fixed as 17 marks, then the total the number of Below Poverty line families would be 3,051,000. This is marginally above the number of families indicated by Government of India. i.e. 2,677,000 families. He has therefore recommended that the cut off marks to arrive at the number of Below Poverty Line families may be fixed at 17 so that no Below Poverty Line family gets left out of the list and requested orders of Government in this regard. The Government after detailed examination has decided to accept the proposal of the Director of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj and accordingly order to fix the cut off mark as 17 for identification of a family as Below Poverty Line family.8. The Director of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj is requested to take necessary further action for finalisation of Below Poverty Line List for rural areas of this state as per the procedure laid down by Government of India.[3]


A Bench Mark Survey conducted in Maharashtra in 1997–1998 found 91.08%[4] Madia Gond families BPL. Madia Gond are a people classified as primitive tribe, they live in Bhamragad Taluka, of Gadchiroli District, of Maharashtra.

Example of mis-use of BPL Schemes

Social activist Mariam Dhavale, State secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), finds the criteria for determining BPL status puzzling and one that excludes the deserving.

Corruption in the system allows those ineligible to gain benefits of the BPL status. A chain of corruption exists between the Government officer to the government appointed retailer resulting in grain and fuel been diverted to the black market[5]

New survey

Going into a survey due for a decade, India's central government is undecided on criteria to identify families below poverty line. The survey is carried on the basis of guidelines and criteria evolved by India's Union Ministry of Rural Development, by the state government. This survey will be used as a reference tool for the 12th five-year plan and in the Food Security Bill, which hs been passed by the government. The 10th and the 11th five-year plans had missed this mandatory survey because of a Supreme Court stay order. Identification of BPL families is necessary for implementing centrally sponsored schemes, such as subsidised food and housing targeted at them.[1]

See also


Further reading

  • The BPL Census and a possible alternative.

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