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Ultra Poverty in India

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  • Last Updated : 06 Dec, 2022
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The inability to provide for even the most basic needs is known as ultra-poverty. Those who are extremely poor frequently lack education, have few or no assets, and are in terrible physical and mental condition. According to The World Bank Poverty, between 9.1% and 9.4% of the world’s population was predicted to be living in extreme poverty in 2020. The term “Ultra-Poor” refers to people who spend 80% of their income on food but fall short of 80% of their daily calorie requirements. There are numerous notable distinctions between the ultra-poor and the poor. The households in ultra-poverty have little or no assets, especially those of a non-durable kind, have few hopes for a better future, and are socially, economically, and geographically isolated. They are also dependent on the erratic supply of wage labor. They typically have food insecurity and eat fewer than two meals every day. Malnutrition makes illnesses worse, which further depletes resources and necessitates borrowing from predatory lenders. Many of the large-scale government livelihood programs and safety net programs that are aimed at the poor do not reach the most vulnerable and extremely poor people. Additionally, market-based solutions are frequently inaccessible to them. 100 to 150 million households in India are thought to live on less than US$1.90 per day. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have increased these households’ vulnerabilities or increased the number of people living in ultra-poverty.

Causes of the Ultra-Poverty:

  • Inappropriate use of resources: Particularly in the farming industry, there is underemployment and convert unemployment throughout the nation. Low agricultural output and a decline in living standards are the results of this.
  • Low Economic Development Rate: In India, economic growth has been slow, particularly in the first 40 years after independence, prior to the LPG reforms in 1991.
  • Price Appreciation: The country’s constant price growth has increased the burden the poor bear. Even though a small number of people have gained from this, lower income groups have suffered as a result and are unable to even meet their bare necessities.
  • Population Explosion: Over the years, India’s population has grown steadily. In the previous 45 years, it has increased at a pace of 2.2% annually, which translates to an average annual population increase of 17 million people. Additionally, this significantly raises the demand for consumer products.
  • Agriculture with low productivity: The low productivity in the agricultural sector is a significant contributor to poverty. Low productivity might have many causes. It is primarily due to fragmented and subdivided land holdings, a lack of funding, ignorance of modern farming technologies, the use of conventional farming practices, waste during storage, etc.
  • Colonial exploitation: India’s historic handicrafts and textile industries were destroyed by the British colonization and domination over the country for approximately two centuries, which led to de-industrialization. India was reduced by colonial policies to a simple producer of raw materials for European businesses. 
  • Climatic variables: Agriculture in some states suffers significant damage as a result of natural disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes, regular floods, and other disasters and later it becomes the reason for poverty in villages for farmers.

Actions Required for the Reform of Ultra-Poor:

1. Public assistance: Systems of universal social protection is required. Particularly important are basic safety nets like health insurance. To reach the extremely poor, they must be expanded and improved gradually. People can be permanently lifted out of poverty by providing basic protection along with proactive efforts.

2. Inclusion: Action must be taken to change discriminatory societal norms where the poorest members of society are subjected to prejudice on the basis of ethnic identity or other traits. It is also necessary to implement programs that enable women to engage more fully in social and political life.

3. Sustainable growth of the economy: In order for disadvantaged people to contribute to economic growth and benefit from it, growth policies must be inclusive. Rural and agricultural development must be prioritized, with a particular focus on smallholder farms, in many nations with high rates of ultra-poverty. Those who labor in the informal sector may have better chances after completing vocational training. Additionally, it could make the transfer to a professional job easier.

4. Health and Education: The very poor, especially kids and women, need access to a reasonable level of healthcare and education. Scholarships, voucher programs, and solidarity grants are tools for improving things. Minority ethnic or religious cultures must be taken into account. Remote locations can be reached with the help of contemporary information and communication technology.

5. Intense hands-on instruction: Training is provided to participants on how to use their new assets. A distinctive aspect of the strategy is weekly visits from program staff who provide coaching or “hand-holding” to help participants deal with difficulties and uncertainty.

Govt. Initiatives for Ultra Poor:

Government Poorest of the Poor (PoP) initiatives have created unique contextual tactics to target and identify the ultra-poor. In order to lift 2 million households out of extreme poverty, Bihar is implementing the Satat Jivikoparjan Yojana program through its State Rural Livelihood Mission. These households include toddy picker families, Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe female-headed households, and Single Female-Headed households. In Jharkhand, a unique UDAAN project is assisting Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG), which are pre-farmers who mainly rely on forest-based subsistence, have extremely low literacy rates, and reside in remote locations and are witnessing diminishing or stagnating populations. and geographically dispersed. Through convergence projects like the Attapadi Programme with the Irula, Muruga, and Kurumba tribal groups of PVTG and the Unnati program, which continues to serve PoP among the SC/ST population, the governments of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are focusing on the lowest of the poor. In Uttar Pradesh, similar initiatives are being made with the Vantangia and Savaria communities. Lessons from all of these interventions have reinforced the need for a focused strategy to address the needs of extremely underprivileged communities in relation to their unique and complex deprivations, as well as the necessity of involving civil society organisations in the final verification of identified households.

Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM):

On February 24, 2022, the World Bank and the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM) hosted a virtual learning event to discuss how to incorporate extremely poor women into the Mission’s initiatives. Presentations by BRAC and BOMA, organisations that have successfully implemented ultra-poor initiatives in numerous countries, were included in the learning session.

One of the greatest community mobilization initiatives in the world, India’s DAY-NRLM brings together over 80 million underprivileged women into over 7.4 million self-help groups to increase their empowerment, grow their savings, and promote sustainable livelihoods. Women from vulnerable populations, such as manual scavengers, human trafficking victims, members of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), and people with disabilities, are given special attention (PwDs). However, many women from the poorest households still struggle to become part of groups, maintain savings, and improve their standard of living. The learning event concentrated on taking notes from programs like BRAC and BOMA that have worked with such “ultra-poor” households by using a holistic, time-bound, and sequential set of interventions, allowing them to earn a basic minimum amount to advance along a pathway to sustainable livelihoods and socioeconomic resilience.

Charcha Program:

Charcha has provided a forum for all parties involved in India’s development to come together and set the course for an India free from poverty. Since its establishment, the platform has made it possible for eminent institutions and organisations working in India’s development sector to conduct significant gatherings that have influenced the discourse on a variety of developmental issues. It is focused on providing motivated and skilled field cadres with intensive hand-holding of the identified families. To provide the household a “breathing room” to learn about earning a living.

Through convergence programs like the Attapadi program with the Irula and Muruga tribal and Kurumba PVTG groups and the Unnati program, which continues to serve the PoP among the numerous SC/ST group, the governments of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have focused on the lowest of the poor. In Uttar Pradesh, attempts in a similar vein are being done with the Vantangia and Sawariya communities. Due to their specific and multifaceted deprivations, the lessons learned from all of these interventions have reinforced the need for a specific strategy for addressing the issues facing ultra-poor communities. These lessons also highlight the importance of involving community-based organisations in the final vetting of the recognized families.


According to the UN’s Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2018, 271 million Indians rose out of poverty between 2005–06 and 2015–16. Over a ten-year period, the country’s poverty rate decreased by almost half, from 55% to 28%. In India, a sizable portion of the population continues to live in poverty. The country’s extreme poverty has significantly decreased because of rapid economic expansion and the application of technology for social sector activities. Unacceptably portions of our population continue to experience acute and multifaceted deprivation despite our country’s fast growth and development. Therefore, to end poverty in India, a more thorough and inclusive approach is needed.

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