ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Has It Ignored T oo Many Poor Households?

Socio Economic Caste Census

A survey to identify who the poor are and how many are actually poor is necessary if programmes and benefits targeted at the needy are to reach them. The Socio Economic and Caste Census, of which partial results have been published, was intended to do this. Yet, even a cursory look at the figures indicates that they call for a willing suspension of disbelief.

Two questions are integral to any discussion on poverty: How many are poor, and who are the poor? Finding answers to these questions needs different approaches and methodologies. Whereas the number of poor can be fixed simply through a sample survey, identifying them would need visiting each and every household. While the Planning Commission was the official agency to estimate the percentage of population below the poverty line (BPL) once in five years based on the National Sample Survey on consumption expenditure, a census to identify BPL households has been conducted by the states through the Central Ministry of Rural Development three times (1992, 1997 and 2002) in the last 25 years. These surveys hardly attracted any media attention compared to the extent of debate that took place on the number of poor and fixing the poverty line. The primary purpose of conducting a village-wise census of poor households by contacting each one is to identify the deprived households that could be assisted under various programmes of the ministry. Such a survey is necessary if there are programmes and benefits exclusively targeted at the poor.

A large number of flagship programmes are universal, such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Mid-Day Meal (MDM), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), and so on. Then there are programmes which could be called “BPL Plus,” such as the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the union government’s cashless health insurance scheme, and the construction of household toilets. Here, a subsidy is available to all BPL families, plus many others such as artisans, domestic workers (for RSBY), and small and marginal farmers, Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and households headed by women (for toilets). The rural housing programme also gives weight to other indicators besides being BPL, such as being houseless, or belonging to particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PTG).

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