By Devika Kohli:
Independent India released its first Social Economic Caste Census survey findings last Friday, demonstrating statistics which reflect the state of poverty and deprivation in rural India as well as important social trends such as ownership of assets, gender dynamics, marital status, education and employment.
The crux however of this report can be simply stated in a single line which is that 50% of India’s population is deprived.
Some unfortunate facts revealed by the Socio Economic Caste Census
The shameful practice of manual scavenging persists in our country with 180,657 people (from the lowest rungs of the Hindu caste system) carrying out the practice of collecting human waste from primitive dry latrines by hand, despite it being outlawed.
Also, barely 20 per cent of households own any kind of motor vehicle. Nearly 40% of households don’t own land and earn wages through casual, manual labor. Agriculture is tough work, with 40% of rural land still lacking irrigation facilities.
In over 90 per cent of households, the main earning member makes less than Rs. 10,000 a month. Nearly half of rural households still live in what are called “kuccha” houses, which include structures made of materials such as thatch, mud, plastic and wood.
Just over 3 per cent of rural households have a family member who is a graduate, so the chances of getting a job are few .
Do the government’s actions match its ‘intent’ of addressing poverty?
Many allege that the government has not been spending the money especially set aside for the advancement of groups chosen for affirmative action (such as scheduled castes or Dalits and scheduled tribes) but using these funds for other purposes. Moreover, the government’s investment in the social sector has been on a gradual decline in the last few years. For instance, according to the SECC report, in around 75 percent of rural households the main earning member’s wage is less than Rs.5000 per month. The MGNREGA (legislation passed to provide employment in the form of manual labor to all rural households on demand) is an initiative of the government to address this problem and enhance the basic incomes of this very constituency. However, the scheme’s performance has been dismal.
Similarly, the SECC results also report that less than 10 % of youth of rural households reach the higher secondary level or above and, households with no literate adult above the age of 25 amount to a shocking 4.21 crore. However, despite these grim numbers the government’s allocation to the education sector is quiet dismal. The allocation to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (the only centrally-funded intervention designed to achieve universalized elementary education) fell from Rs.24, 380 crore (2014-15) to Rs.19, 800 crore (2015-16), while the allocation for the Department of School Education and Literacy fell from Rs.46, 805 crore (2014-15) to Rs.42, 200 crore (2015-16) .
These are just two such examples amongst many others of the government’s unabated trend of cutting budgets for social sector schemes devised to address poverty.
The pitfalls of the SECC
The Socio Economic Caste Census has formulated an “exclusion criteria” consisting of 14 parameters which could now become the basis for excluding 40% of the rural households from availing government entitlements. If a rural household ticks off even one of these 14 parameters, it will be left outside the ambit of government entitlements.
The parameters include ownership of motorized vehicles, Kisan Credit Card with credit limit of over Rs 50,000, households with members employed by the government and any household with one member earning above Rs 10,000 a month, among others. However, reports state that 40% of rural households fall under any one of the parameters resulting in dire consequences for the poor. By this measure, four in ten rural households may not be considered for government aid.
India is not just in the cities: Our country is a long way from being the paragon of success
The numbers discussed above should come as a reality check for those who brag about India’s unprecedented growth and arrival on the global stage as a superpower. We are a long way from even finding jobs that can pull families out of poverty. No number of investor summits, foreign MoUs and attempts at canvassing an image of India to the outside world can compensate for the grim realities revealed via the SECC. This is an India that most of us sitting safely tucked away in metropolitan cities may not (choose not to) ever see.
It would be well advised for the government to release caste-wise information on socio-economic indicators collected by the SECC but not yet put in the public domain as these numbers would allow for a comparison of relative socio-economic status of different caste groups and thus help in framing policies of affirmative action.