India and poverty- some basic numbers

India has a lot of people who are called “poor”, take any scale or definition of poverty. The governments agree to this, the World Bank and the UN agree to this, everybody does. But do we know how many are the so called “poor”? Do we know the magnitude of the challenge of eradicating poverty? Do we know where do we stand with respect to rest of the world? The following charts may give some answers to these questions.

All charts are created by the author. The poverty figures are from the World Bank. The India population figures are from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators database; and the world population figures are from GeoHive.

The World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.9 per capita per day is considered for all poverty figures.


  • Chart 1 shows the number of poor in India and proportion of poor in the total population of the country from 1983 to 2011.
  • From 1987 to 2004, the number of poor actually increased. But it fell down drastically between 2004 and 2011. The proportion of poor shows somewhat a consistent decline.
  • As of 2011, India has about 260 million poor who constitute around 20 percent of its population. Meaning, one in five persons in the country is a poor.


  • Chart 2 depicts the world poverty numbers. Between 1983 and 1993, the number of poor remained almost the same, just under 2000 million. Between 1993 and 2004, the reduction in poverty was significant.
  • As of 2011, there are nearly 1000 million poor in the world, which is half of what was in 1983. Presently, nearly 14 percent of the total world population is poor.


  • Chart 3 is a combination of charts 1 and 2. It tells that the proportion of poor in India as a percentage of its total population has always been higher than the corresponding proportion for the world. However, the good news for India is that while the gap was approximately 12 percent in 1983, it has come down to 6 percent by 2011.
  • While the world poverty achieved a steep reduction between 1993 and 2004, India did not have a similar experience during the same period. But India’s reduction in poverty has been steeper than that of the world since 2004.


  • Chart 4 tells that India’s contribution to world’s poor has historically been higher than it contribution to world’s people. Meaning, India has more number of poor than it should proportionately have. However, a more unfortunate observation is that while in 1983 India contributed only 20 percent of world’s poor, by 2011, the contribution has increased to 26 percent. This could mean that either India was slow at poverty reduction or the rest of the world was comparatively faster. On the other hand, India’s contribution to world’s population has stayed between 16 and 18 percent during the same period.



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