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Govt to try Dreze formula for BPL census

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

The government is considering a method to identify the total number of poor in the country on the basis of a formula suggested by economists Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera for the upcoming below poverty line (BPL) census.

Jean DrèzeThis method would enable a villager to know whether he is eligible for BPL status or not without even being told and, thus, enable self-verification and monitoring. It is based on five indicators of poverty. A system of binary scoring would be tried in the pilots being rolled out for the census next month. It would be tried alongside the method of automatic inclusion suggested by a committee appointed by the rural development ministry.

The N C Saxena committee suggested automatic inclusion of households, led by SC, ST, landless and single women as BPL families, while several other factors had been given scores from 1 to 10 for further identification of BPL.

These indicators range from minority community, illiteracy, illness and so on. So, if illiteracy gets one point, landlessness gets two, Dalit status three, and so on.

This was an improvement on the 2002 census method of identifying the poor on the basis of 13 indicators and then giving them scores from 0 to 52.

The new method suggested by Drèze simplifies inclusion further. It includes among priority groups SC/ST households, landless households with no adult educated beyond class five, households led by single women and households with one adult working as agricultural labour. For the purpose of identifying the poorer among the selected, it suggests binary scoring, which is giving a single mark to each of the five indicators. Anyone with even one score gets a BPL card and two scores gets an Antyodaya card.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-3 (2005-06), about 78 per cent of rural Indians have at least one of these five criteria. About 47.5 per cent meet at least two of the criteria. Drèze lists these for automatic inclusion of the Social Assistance Base, as he calls the BPL families.

He also suggests an option of exclusion based on three other criteria, for instance, possession of car, refrigerator, colour TV, scooters, and landline phone; second, having piped water, power and flush toilet; and thirdly, ownership of multi-room house or multi-storied house.

While the Saxena committee allows for imposing caps on the number of BPL households identified in villages and district levels, Drèze does away with the caps. He says since the selection method is open to self verification, there may be little need to impose caps.

Says Khera: The Saxena committee’s scoring system tends to give more marks for indicators that are not proven factors. For instance, being a Dalit-led household gets more points than being an illiterate-led household.

Inclusion criteria suggested by Drèze Rural households meeting inclusion criteria (%)
SC/ST households 31.8
Landless households 41.5
Household with no educated adult 38.4
Households headed by single women 14.9
Agricultural labour households 32.9
Any of the above criteria 78.9
Any of the two criteria 47.5
(Figures in percentage; from National Family Health Survey-III data cited by Drèze)

Besides, giving different scores for different criteria makes the process confusing and not open to participatory verification by the society, she adds.

Members of the rural development ministry and Planning Commission, and members of the Saxena committee, have been holding meetings this month to finalise the methodology for the census next month.

Sources attending the meeting said the problem with the Drèze method was that it did not provide a way to prioritise when smaller numbers had to be identified.

Khera replied. “We have been discussing this with the ministry and have suggested a simple method of prioritising the more needy households. Our binary scoring method is all about prioritising.”

First Published: Wed, April 28 2010. 01:33 IST