Just How Poor is Really Poor?

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Tricky criteria in the poverty survey could deny PDS benefits to many SCs and farmers. Prakhar Jain reports

Targeting the poor The idea of the survey is to iron out flaws in the leaky PDS system
Targeting the poor The idea of the survey is to iron out flaws in the leaky PDS system
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

A FAIRER DEAL for the rural poor might be possible now, after Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh indicated that the methodology of the BPL Census might be tweaked to increase the chances of SC/ST being included in the list. This came as a surprise as the ministry had rejected the same recommendation given by the NC Saxena Committee in 2009. The committee had suggested compulsory inclusion of the most discriminated among SC groups, called Maha-Dalits.

Ramesh is also pressing that the exercise be called a socio-economic survey, but the intention has always been to conduct a BPL survey so that the PDS could be targeted at the really poor. Despite his tinkering, the survey may still end up excluding rather than including the really deprived — at least, that’s what advocates of universal PDS aver.

The survey identifies a poor household by applying 13 exclusion criteria, five inclusion criteria and a seven-point deprivation ranking. These points have been extensively debated by both the committee and experts and they have expressed doubts about the potential of the current methodology to identify the most vulnerable sections of society.

The questionnaire says that an SC can only be a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist.This would leave out SCs who are now Muslim or Christian. Government rules see Islam and Christianity as homogenous religions without caste division.

The Saxena Committee also recommended exclusion of people who hold double or triple the landholding of the district average but that it should not apply to STs, as they might not have actual possession of the land. The ministry instead introduced three different exclusion criteria on the basis of land-holding that doesn’t allow that exemption to the STs.

Manas Ranjan of Action- Aid India points out how badly the farming community is going to be affected. He says a non-SC/ST farming household with one acre of land having a two-room kutcha house and a primary school dropout in the family will definitely not be given a BPL card.

In response, Secretary for Rural Development BK Sinha says that this is justified. “In the agrarian committee report, we had inferred that 86-90 percent land records are inaccurate. So it is just not possible to find out average land ownership,” he says.

THE COMMITTEE recommended compulsory inclusion of all “single women- headed households, households headed by minors and households with disabled person as bread-earner”. But these households are being marked according to deprivation indicators. This doesn’t guarantee them a BPL card.

SCs who have converted to Christianity and Islam won’t be able to claim the scheme’s benefits

Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to the Supreme Court commissioners on the Right to Food, says it goes against the court’s interim order dated 2 May 2003 that says, “widows, single women and old persons with no regular support and no assured means of subsistence” should be entitled to Antyodaya Anna Yojana. This scheme ensures foodgrain to the poorest of the poor.

The committee also recommended that households with people suffering from TB, leprosy or HIV/AIDS be given an additional mark while counting the deprivation indicators. The ministry, however, has decided not to include them as it feels it can lead to large-scale inclusion and exclusion errors. But the BPL survey being conducted in urban areas considers it an important indicator and is collecting data on this.

Prakhar Jain is a Trainee Correspondent with Tehelka.
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