This paper is an examination of the incidence and causes of chronic poverty in Bankura, a district in the Indian state of West Bengal. The examination is situated within an analysis of rural development policies undertaken during the tenure of the Left Front Government (hereafter Left Front), which has ruled the state continually since 1977. Although the Left Front has been instrumental in the considerable changes that have occurred in the agrarian structure in West Bengal, this process has not occurred evenly throughout the state. On the basis of on-going fieldwork in Gangajalghati Block in the western part of Bankura, it is argued that despite a number of highly vaunted pro-poor measures, there remains a substantial section of the population who could be considered chronically poor.
The first part of the paper examines aspects of the burgeoning field of Chronic Poverty and suggests that as well as being sensitive to livelihood issues and agro-ecological constraints, a thorough understanding of the factors behind chronic poverty necessitates that it be situated in an explicitly political framework of development. The second part of the paper addresses these issues directly. While many states of India have politicised various activities related to poverty alleviation, the state of West Bengal is a particularly significant example of the political nature of poverty alleviation. In this case, an activist government has been important in removing the most exploitative aspects of the agrarian structure and overseeing a modest redistribution of assets. Moreover, poverty reduction has undoubtedly benefited enormously from the substantial agricultural growth that has occurred since the mid-1980s.
However, the more arid parts of West Bengal, such as Purulia and the western parts of Bankura and Midnapore, have been largely by-passed in the transformation that has occurred. In these regions, poor soil quality, low agricultural productivity and low potential for irrigation has meant that a pronounced lean season remains. In this case, the numerous poverty alleviation plans that are available to the Left Front to be distributed via its renowned Panchayat system could potentially overcome some of these problems. Unfortunately, as the third part of the paper illustrates, programmes related to food, employment and credit have been insufficient in this regard. The paper argues that this is in part because of the compulsions of local level politics, in part because of broader regional forces and in part due to changes occurring in the political economy at the national and international levels.
Policy, Politics and Chronic Poverty: The experience of Bankura District, West Bengal, presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 26 pp.