Falling farm incomes, growing inequities

Year 2005, Location: India, Circumstances: Which you cannot expect!

Health spending in the average farm household is double that on education each month. Millions of India’s farm households are in dismal shape. Even as the number of billionaires grows at the other end of the spectrum.

FIRST THE good news. Well, good news for someone, anyway. The collective net worth of 311 Indian billionaires is now Rs.3.64 trillion. This is up 71 per cent from last year, when it was a paltry Rs.2.13 trillion. The tribe has also grown. It now includes 133 new entrants who just months ago were merely millionaires. The daily newspaper that tracks this elite club (Business Standard, November 9, 2005) puts it simply: “India’s billionaires have never had it so good.”

Some hundreds of millions might never have had it so bad either. So just before we pop the corks on those bottles, have a look at the news from the nation’s farm households. There are millions of those, not 311. The average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of farm households across India was Rs.503 in 2003. That is just about Rs.75 above the rural poverty line. And it is an average across regions and classes and income groups. So even this dismal figure hides huge inequities.

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