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Chronic Poverty in India: Overview Study

Aasha Kapur Mehta
Amita Shah


This paper attempts to summarise the current state of knowledge about chronic poverty in India, and identify an agenda for further research. An overview of the trends in incidence of income poverty in India is provided to place chronic poverty in context. Chronic poverty is viewed in terms of severity, extended duration and multidimensional deprivation.

First, those states and regions that have a high incidence of people with incomes severely below the poverty line are identified in order to focus attention on spatial poverty traps. Severe deprivation, defined as an inability to access two square meals a day, exists even in supposedly better-off parts of India. Attention is also drawn to the importance of identifying those who are vulnerable to extreme poverty due to an inability to absorb the impact of shocks.

Second, the incidence of chronic poverty in the duration sense is studied on the basis of analysis of panel data sets in the literature. Casual agricultural labourers are the largest group and cultivators the second largest among the chronically poor. The bulk of the chronically poor depend on wages.

Third, it is argued that poverty is the sum total of a multiplicity of factors that include not just income and calorie intake but also access to land and credit, nutrition, health and longevity, literacy and education, and safe drinking water, sanitation and other infrastructural facilities. The paper presents and analyses estimates of multidimensional indicators of poverty that reflect human and gender development and empowerment as well as infant mortality and female literacy. An attempt is made to see if areas suffering from a high incidence of severe income poverty also suffer deprivation in access to literacy, knowledge, nutrition, voice and infrastructure.

Next, the disproportionately high incidence of chronic poverty among historically marginalized groups such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, the elderly, women and the disabled is analysed. The multiple deprivations suffered by these groups make it harder for them to escape from poverty.

The paper then turns to an examination of the extent and nature of chronic poverty within two types of remote rural areas: dryland regions characterised by frequent failure of crops and employment opportunities, leading to high level of unprotected risks of livelihood security among the poor; and 'forest based' economies, especially in hilly regions with large tribal populations with limited access to natural resources, information and markets. Factors affecting chronic poverty in these regions are analysed, the relationship between chronic poverty and agro-climatic conditions, agronomic features, human capabilities, social structure and infrastructure studied and variations in the dynamics of poverty across the two sets of regions are identified.

Finally, the paper briefly looks at poverty reduction policy interventions as well as attempts by communities to demand that government spending in the name of the poor is accountable and transparent. The paper concludes with a summary of key findings and presents an agenda for further research.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


poverty dynamics vulnerability India remote rural areas gender

ISBN: 1-904049-06-0


Chronic Poverty in India: Overview Study PDF 568.6 KB

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