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    Default Montek Singh Ahluwalia in line of fire for 'new' poverty line

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    Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, came under fire on Wednesday for the new poverty line figures he announced on Monday.

    Opposition parties joined hands to target the government over the new definition of people living on less than Rs 28 per day in urban and Rs 22.50 in rural areas as poor.

    Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar allowed a special debate after an hour-long adjournment when Opposition members created a ruckus demanding that the government reject the Planning Commission's "shocking" definition and come up with a new poverty line.

    The MPs were venting their ire over the Planning Commission data, released on Monday, claiming poverty had significantly fallen between 2004-05 and 2009-10.

    It said poor were the ones who spend less than Rs 28 per day in urban areas and Rs 22.50 in rural areas.

    The new poverty line is lower than the earlier Rs 32-per-day mark that had triggered outrage when the government submitted it to the Supreme Court last year.

    Initiating the debate, Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav launched a scathing attack on Ahluwalia without naming him. He called for scrapping of the panel and blamed it for the "flawed data" released on Monday.

    "The (deputy) chairman is (living) far away from ground realities. He should be removed. Every time he speaks, things go wrong," said Sharad Yadav.

    "Poverty will of course decline when you lower the minimum household income... Tell me, is it possible to live on Rs 28 per day in urban areas and Rs 22.50 in rural areas," he asked.

    Yadav said the government was fudging the data to show economic growth. "What should you do now. Shoot the poor, give them poison... if you want to end poverty."

    Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Sushma Swaraj said it was wrong to target the plan panel because "the real culprit is the government which has accepted the figures".

    "The prime minister is the chairman of the Planning Commission. Why should we target its deputy chairman? The government is on one hand increasing prices and on the other lowering the poverty indicating figures," she said.

    Addressing Congress president Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Swaraj asked the government to "come out with new norms that define poverty in this country realistically. You reject the figures. Soniaji has the clout to do that."

    Swaraj also asked: "Is it possible to live, educate kids and feed your family with Rs 22.50 a day in rural areas and Rs 28 in urban areas? I urge you to join the house in asking the government to reject the figures."

    Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav also lambasted the government.

    He also called for sacking of Ahulwalia saying "people living in air-conditioned rooms" have no knowledge of poor in India. The reality, he said, was 65 percent of the Indians are living below poverty line without electricity and potable water.

    "(The) prime minister is responsible as he is the chairman of the commission. He should remove the deputy chairman from the post," Mulayam Singh told reporters later outside the house.

    Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) Basudeb Acharia said these figures "underestimate the poverty in our country". He asked the government to withdraw the poverty definition.

    Congress's Arun Kumar, the only MP from the ruling bench to speak during the debate, claimed that opposition members were misleading Parliament.

    He said the figures were per capita and not for one family. The per family figures are Rs 4,824 a month for the urban areas and Rs 3,905 for rural areas.

    The debate was allowed after BJP MPs led the disruption of the crucial question hour after the house met at 11 am Meira Kumar adjourned the house till 12 noon.



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