Fewer poor among SC, ST, OBC

Poverty among the marginalised saw steep fall in FY05-FY12, say Planning Commission data

Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, more people among the deprived social classes – Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) – were brought above the poverty line, compared to other segments of society, according to data released by the Planning Commission.

Among the marginalised sections, the steepest fall in poverty was seen in the case of SCs, both in urban and rural regions. The Planning Commission data showed now, poverty level among SCs was closer to that among the overall population.

In 2004-05, more than half the SC and ST population in rural areas was below the poverty line. By 2011-12, poverty among SCs in rural areas fell 22 percentage points — from 53.5 per cent in 2004-05 to 31.5 per cent. During this period, poverty among the overall rural population fell 16.1 percentage points to 25.7 per cent.

For SCs in urban areas, the fall was of 19 percentage points — from 40.6 per cent in 2004-05 to 21.7 per cent in 2011-12. For the overall population in urban areas, poverty fell 12 percentage points to 13.7 per cent.

The figures are based on the poverty line drawn by former National Statistical Commission chief Suresh Tendulkar. According to this methodology, a person spending more than Rs 33.33 a day in urban areas and Rs 27.2 in rural regions is considered above the poverty line. After this methodology drew flak from many sections, the government appointed a committee under C Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, to revisit poverty estimation.

In rural areas, the number of STs below the poverty line fell 17 percentage points — from 62.3 per cent in 2004-05 to 45.3 per cent in 2011-12. During the same period, the number of such STs in urban areas fell 11.4 percentage points — from 35.5 per cent to 24.1 per cent.

OBCs also saw steep decline in poverty. In urban areas, the fall was of 17.2 percentage points — from 39.8 per cent to 22.6 per cent. In rural areas, poverty among this population fell from 30.6 per cent to 15.4 per cent, a decline of 15.2 percentage points.

S R Hashim, former member of the Planning Commission, said rapid growth during the United Progressive Alliance regime was one of the factors behind the steep fall in poverty among marginalised sections. “It is good news and this shows growth did benefit these sections of society,” said Hashim, also the chairman of a panel set up to evolve a uniform mechanism to identify the poor.

During the period between 2004-05 and 2011-12, India’s economy grew an average 8.3 per cent annually. Between 1993-94 and 2004-05, average growth stood at 6.2 per cent; during that decade, the decline in overall poverty was marginal — about four percentage points to 11 percentage points in urban and rural areas.

“This (trend) is consistent with the expectation that rapid growth is good for the poor. It also illustrates growth acceleration has translated into broad-based benefits,” economist Arvind Panagariya wrote in a note titled Poverty by Social, Religious & Economic Groups in India and its Largest States: 1993-94 to 2011-12. Panagariya’s figures of the decline in poverty among various social sections are close to official figures.

Hashim said as the presence of SCs in the mainstream economy was more than that of STs, the decline in poverty among the former was steeper. “STs are more concentrated in tribal areas and face much more shortage of infrastructure and basic amenities compared to SCs, who can avail of basic needs more easily,” he said.

In his note, Panagariya, said, “While more targeted action to assist STs is required, it bears noting that contrary to the popular claims, STs have seen significant improvements in their fortunes during the high-growth phase.”