Poverty in India is a complex and multifaceted issue influenced by a combination of historical, economic, social, and political factors. Several renowned economists and leaders have provided insights into the root causes of the high poverty rate in India. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, has highlighted the importance of addressing social inequalities and investing in education and healthcare to combat poverty in India and sustain economic development.
Below, we have compiled a table of the poverty rate in India in past years using the poverty line of $2.15, with data sourced from the World Bank.
Poverty Rate in India (percent)
British economic policy in India
The British economic policy in India had profound negative consequences for the Indian economy, being one of the primary reasons behind the high level of poverty rate in India.Numerous scholars have discussed the economic exploitation or "loot" of India during British colonial rule. They point to various mechanisms through which India's wealth was extracted, including heavy taxation, discriminatory trade policies, and the draining of resources. Dadabhai Naoroji, a strong critic of British economic policy in India, explained the financial exploitation of India under British colonial rule through the Drain Theory. According to Naoroji, the economic surplus generated in India was drained to Britain, leaving the Indian economy impoverished. He argued that this drain took various forms, including the remittance of profits to Britain, high salaries for British officials in India, and the payment for goods and services imported from Britain. Let’s see how British economic policy in India contributed to the poverty in India:
1. Economic exploitation
The primary goal of British imperialism was to extract valuable resources for the benefit of the imperial power. Natural resources, including minerals, agricultural products, and raw materials, were exploited on a large scale. British imperialists employed coercive labour practices, including slavery and indentured servitude, to ensure a cheap workforce for their economic enterprises.
2. Imbalance in trade
The Indian economy was made a supplier of primary goods while Britain made mass-produced finished goods were dumped in Indian markets. Heavy duties were imposed on Indian products while none on Britain-made goods. This one-way free trade dealt significant damage to the Indian economy.
3. Impact on indigenous industries
British policies destroyed local industries to eliminate competition with British goods. This de-industrialisation had long-term adverse effects on economic self-sufficiency and contributed to the increase in the poverty rate in India.
4. Financial exploitation
Taxes were imposed to fund colonial administration and infrastructure projects, further straining local economies.
5. Financial integration
British imperialism contributed to the integration of India into the global economy. However, this integration was often unequal, with India dependent on the imperial power for economic stability.
6. Legacy of inequality
The economic structures established during the imperial era resulted in persistent wealth disparities. The legacies of exploitation, unequal land distribution, and social inequalities continue to impact the poverty rate in India.
Poverty in India after independence
After gaining independence, India continued to face significant challenges in overcoming poverty. The causes of poverty in India include:
1. Historical legacy
The legacy of colonial exploitation, including resource extraction and the imposition of economic structures favouring the colonisers, is one of India’s biggest causes of poverty.
2. Unequal distribution of resources
Large landholdings by a few elites contribute to poverty in India by limiting access to resources for the broader population.
3. Corruption and governance issues
Corruption in governance structures is a significant impediment to reducing the poverty rate in India. Diverting resources meant for development, embezzlement, and lack of transparency hinder effective poverty alleviation initiatives.
4. Weak institutions
The legacy of colonial rule left India with weak institutions, including legal systems, bureaucracies, and law enforcement. This impedes effective governance and contributes to the rising Indian poverty rate.
5. Dependency on primary commodities
The Indian economy continues to rely heavily on the export of primary commodities, a legacy of the colonial economic structure. This makes the economy vulnerable to external market fluctuations.
6. Social inequalities
Social inequalities, often exacerbated by historical factors such as caste systems or ethnic divisions, contribute to persistent poverty in India. Discrimination limits access to education, employment, and other opportunities for marginalised groups.
7. Population growth
Rapid population growth strains available resources and makes it challenging to achieve sustainable development. This results in high levels of unemployment and limited access to essential services, contributing to the high Indian poverty rate. India is now the world’s most populous country.
8. Global economic factors
Global economic dynamics, including trade imbalances and debt burdens, exacerbate poverty in India. Unfavourable terms of trade and economic policies imposed by powerful nations hinder local development efforts.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Which is the poorest state in India?Bihar is the poorest state in India. The causes are similar to the causes of poverty in India, including high population density, low literacy rates, inadequate infrastructure, ineffective governance, and limited industrial growth.2. Which is the wealthiest Indian state?Going by the GDP of Indian states in 2023-24, Maharashtra is the wealthiest.