Mumbai: After being reduced to a farce by politicians, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia admitted that poverty figures are at an all time low. CNN-IBN's Smitha Nair tried to find out if it is possible to survive in a Mumbai slum for close to Rs 7,000 a month.
It was early evening when CNN-IBN met Anwari Shiekh in the Mandala slum in Mumbai's suburb of Mankhurd. A domestic help, Anwari who left home at the crack of dawn for work returned and briefly joined a heated neighbourhood conversation on Congress leader Raj Babbars now infamous Rs 12 for a meal remark.
Inside a 6 by 6 room that costs her Rs 2,000 a month, Anwari then prepared a modest meal that her family of six would partake to break their Ramzan fast. On an average, Anwari, who works in five houses brings home Rs 4,500 a month. Her husband, she said, spends most days scouting for odd jobs that are tough to come by especially after an injury left him barely able to use his hands. Her son, a delivery boy, makes Rs 3,000 a month. "How do I pay? Should I take care of the stomach, the water bill or the electricity bill," a helpless Anwari asks.
A migrant from Assam in the 80s, Anwari earlier possessed a yellow ration card denoting her BPL status. The new orange card says she is above the poverty line. How so, she wonders and asks, "Are we not poor?"
After spending Rs 2,000 on rent, Rs 4,000 on food, Rs 250 on water, Rs 350 on electricity, Rs 600 on travel to work and Rs 500 on health, the monthly expenses total Rs 7,700. Education in such cases may well become the casualty. Anwari's youngest Sujal and Rojina study at the local primary municipal school. With no secondary munical school in the vicinity, dropping out after class 7, Anwari said, may be the only option.
By one estimate, if one were to go by the current poverty benchmark, only 6 per cent of Mumbai is poor. Now juxtapose that with this number - more than 50 per cent of the city lives in slums, with little or no access to public health, education and sometimes even shelter.
Lakshmi Masare, Anwari's neighbour, too, is part of the 67 per cent of Mumbai's workforce that work in the informal sector and the 54 per cent that live in slums, but aren't considered poor.
The urban poverty alleviation ministry in fact even admitted that it found it difficult to identify beneficiaries in cities as very few families earn below the BPL mark. Despite living in deplorable conditions, for Anwari Lakshmi and many others, the poverty figures are only a statistical myth.