Starvation still stalking masses in wealthy India

By Rahui Bedi in India

Only US has more wealthy citizens but 77 per cent of population live on 51c a day.

Despite over one-third of its population of around 1.2 billion still living in poverty, India has the second largest number of affluent people with over three million households possessing more than US$100,000 ($126,711) of "investible" funds.

And though the United States still remains the world's most prosperous country with 31 million affluent households, a recent survey by the global market research agency TNS revealed that India, China and Brazil had overtaken many European countries in a measure of consumer wealth.

The TNS online Global Affluent Investor Survey was based on interviews of 12,092 affluent decision-makers across 24 countries.

"India and China have already surpassed major European markets like Germany and France. It's interesting to see that the entrepreneurial spirit of people in these markets is already paying off in terms of personal wealth," TNS director business and finance Reg van Steen said.

The analysis revealed that India and the UAE were among the top five countries where the affluent have an average of over US$1 million of investible assets alongside Singapore and Hong Kong.

This, however, does not include the value of the affluent individuals' primary residences or private art and antique collections which in many cases were considerable and growing as investment in this esoteric sector for rich Indians is fast escalating.

Two years ago India emerged as the world's second fastest producer of millionaires (behind Singapore) due primarily to its consistently high economic growth rate, a robust stock market and rising real estate prices.

Analysts attribute India's prosperity to its strong economic performance growing annually at over 8 per cent for nearly a decade, boosted by foreign investment and significant growth in manufacturing and services.

But despite such affluence, abject poverty dominates India with the much-touted fruits of economic achievement remaining confined to a mere handful and with social, economic and environmental justice a mirage for the vast majority.

A recent study by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector revealed that 77 per cent of India's population lives on a mere Rs20 (51c) a day.

And last month the federal Planning Commission responsible for formulating the country's economic policies and goals earned nationwide opprobrium over its declaration that anyone earning Rs32 per day in urban areas and Rs26 in rural India was deemed to be above the official poverty line.

These meagre amounts - based unrealistically on the individual's ability to purchase 2400 calories per day in rural areas and 2200 calories per day in urban regions, in addition to paying for housing, clothing, education, medical benefits and entertainment - rendered these people ineligible for federal and provincial government welfare schemes intended for those living below the poverty line.

And though these paltry sums based on arcane economic computations exempted millions from being classified as poor, the Planning Commission still calculated that 407.4 million Indians lived below the poverty line, nearly 100 million people more than the US population.

Additionally, India has dropped two spots to rank 67th among 84 developing nations in the International Food Policy Research Institute's Global Hunger Index 2010, with alarmingly high levels of hungry, undernourished and stunted children and poorly fed women.

The Food Policy Institute in Washington last October declared that India is home to 42 per cent of the world's underweight children under the age of 5.

Even Sudan, North Korea and Pakistan ranked higher than India, despite its booming economy and much-touted annual growth rate for several consecutive years. The increase in hunger across India was in inverse proportion to its economic growth, the report revealed.

- NZ Herald

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