New Delhi: Congress leader Raj Babbar has expressed regret over his Rs 12 comment, saying that he was only referring to the Below Poverty Line families. He had earlier claimed that it was easy to get a full meal for Rs 12 even in Mumbai.
The Congress, meanwhile, has distanced itself from remarks made by leaders that a full meal can be available for Rs 12 or Rs 5. "We do not agree with Rs 15 and Rs 5 statement of some leaders," Congress leader Ajay Maken tweeted.
The war of words between the government and the Opposition over poverty figures hit a new low with the UPA and Congress leaders claiming that they can get full meals in Rs 12, Rs 5 and even Re 1. While the Opposition says the government is far from the ground realities, CNN-IBN did a ground check to find out if meals are really available in these amounts.
The ground reality is nowhere close to the government's claims. In Delhi, even a subsidised meal costs Rs 15. When asked if anything was available for Rs 5, a vendor told CNN-IBN, "Nothing is available for Rs 5. The minimum cost is Rs 15."
Congress leader Rasheed Masood had also said that it is possible for a person to buy a meal for Rs 5. "In Delhi you can get a whole meal for Rs 5, but I don't know about Mumbai. I myself spend less than Rs 5 on my meals." Masood said.
In Mumbai, people say it was 20 years back that a full meal would have been available for Rs 12. "I pay Rs 50 for my meal every day," said a taxi driver. "We sell a complete meal for Rs 30. A vada pav costs Rs 12 these days. A meal used to cost Rs 12 twenty years back," said a food stall vendor.
Raj Babbar had claimed that it was easy to get a full meal for Rs 12 even in Mumbai. His comments had been slammed by the Opposition with BJP leader Varun Gandhi claiming that the only place where one can get a meal for Rs 12 is the Parliament canteen. The Shiv Sena accused the Congress of mocking the poor. "In Mumbai, you can't even get a cup of tea or Vada Pav for Rs 12. The Congress is mocking the poor," said Sena leader Sanjay Raut.
In Kolkata too, no food was available for Rs 5 or Rs 12. "The cost of meals ranges between Rs 15 and Rs 50," said a food stall vendor in Kolkata.
As the debate on poverty line rages on, Union Minister Farooq Abdullah made another startling claim and went on to say that one can have a full meal for just Re 1 if desired. "If you want, you can fill your stomach in Re 1 or Rs 100, depending on what you want to eat. We are working to change the life of the poor so they can eat well be healthy and India can progress," Farooq Abdullah said.
The raging debate started after the UPA claimed that India's poverty ratio declined to 21.9 per cent under its rule. The new poverty line pegs daily per capita consumption expenditure at less than Rs 33 in cities and Rs 27 rupees in villages.
The BJP rejected the Planning Commission figures and accused the government of lowering the bar on the definition of poverty and misleading the people. Delhi BJP President had even sent a money order of Rs 33 to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Wednesday. He had challenged the trio to buy a meal for Rs 33 and said that the Congress has changed the definition of poverty ahead of polls.
He had said this was the BJP's way of protesting against Planning Commission's criteria that anybody whose consumption of goods and services exceed Rs 33 in cities per day was not poor.
Ajay Maken has now hit back at the BJP. "BJP criticizing Rs 33.30 Poverty Line should explain why it was Rs 16.73 in 59th NSSO survey of 2003 and accepted by BJP/NDA Govt? Unlike the BJP NDA,we have de-linked this poverty line from all 150 Central Govt schemes including NREGA,ICDS,MDM,NRHM,SSA,PDS except 1," he tweeted.