A special census to calculate the number of people living below the poverty line (BPL) was today cleared by the Union Cabinet. The census would serve as an aid to enumerate and understand the lives of the poor, as well as their social backgrounds.
The census would be conducted separately for rural and urban areas, and would include criteria like caste and religion. It would start in June and would be completed by December. It would be conducted by the ministry of rural development, the ministry of housing and poverty alleviation and the Registrar General of India.
Apart from exposing fake BPL cardholders, the exercise is expected to bridge the gap between the BPL estimates of the Planning Commission and various state governments. Currently, states find the Planning Commission’s estimate of the number of households under the BPL category a gross underestimate. “If states want to give benefits to the poor who were excluded in the new census, it can do so from its own resources,” information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said today after the Cabinet meeting.
Several Cabinet ministers raised apprehensions about the viability and practical usage of some of the criteria to measure poverty. Some raised the issue of how poor people living in the hills were not included in BPL lists. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to consider the the Cabinet’s suggestions while enumerating the census data.
The rural BPL census would follow a methodology finalised by the rural development ministry over the last one year. The ministry had used the findings of a report by a committee headed by N C Saxena. The urban census would be carried out simultaneously, but the criteria for the BPL census for urban areas would be based on the recommendations of a committee headed by S R Hashim.
The new methodology for the rural census would divide the rural poor into three sections. One set of the population would be included in the BPL category, while another set of people — the economically affluent but socially deprived — would be excluded from the BPL category. A third set of the population would be enumerated on the basis of seven socio-economic parameters.
The methodology for the rural census would consider the economic conditions of the family and attach only moderate importance to factors like social backwardness.
The urban population would be enumerated on the basis of three criteria — residential status, social vulnerability and occupational vulnerability.
The census, to be conducted by state government employees, would use special computers to immediately encrypt the data collected from a particular household to ensure that the data is not tampered with. Six lakh such computers would be used for the rural census, ministry secretary B K Sinha said today.
Criteria to exclude households from the BPL list would include ownership of two, three or four-wheeled motor vehicles, registered fishing boats, and mechanised three or four wheeler agricultural equipment like tractors and harvesters. Households with kisan credit cards with a credit limit of Rs 50,000 and above, households with a government employee as its member (including Asha and anganwadi workers) and households with enterprises registered with the government would also be excluded. Households with a ‘pucca’ house — with three or more rooms and a concrete roof — would also be excluded. Families owing refrigerators, landline phones, 2.5 acres of irrigated land with a motor-operated well or five to seven acres of irrigated land would also be excluded.
“The first task would be to exclude. The next step would be to include those who meet the criteria of automatic inclusion. This would be roughly three per cent, Sinha said.
The automatic inclusion list would include households without a shelter, destitutes living on alms, manual scavengers, primitive tribal groups and legally released bonded labourers.
The next step would be to see what part of the remaining population aligns with the list of the seven deprivations the methodology proposes.
The last two deprivations would be households with no literate adult above the age of 25 years and landless households deriving the majority of their incomes from manual casual labour. The order of priority for inclusion of households in the BPL list would be from the maximum number of deprivations to the least. To check coverage under the government’s welfare schemes, households eligible for compulsory inclusion would have the maximum priority, followed by households with higher deprivation scores, the ministry said.
According to a report by the Tendulkar committee, under the Planning Commission, 41.8 per cent of the rural population fall below the poverty line, with an additional four per cent counted as transient poor.