The first Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in over eight decades—the last one was in 1932—spread across 640 districts has decoded rural India for planners and policy makers. Rural India accounts for 17.91 crore (73.43%) of India’s 24.39 crore households. But, nearly a quarter-century after liberalisation, over 51% of rural households still survive on manual casual labour, while another 30% survive on cultivation. Further, 36% of the rural population is illiterate; and in close to a quarter of the households, no one over 25 is literate. That could seriously erode the demographic dividend that India hopes to reap.
But, if there is one striking piece of data on rural India, it is on mobile penetration, with over 68% of households owning cell phones. And 21% have a motorised vehicle while 11% have refrigerators. Now that it has the SECC numbers, the government will be better able to identify beneficiaries of its subsidies. Almost 40% of the households fall in one or more of the 14 parameters of exclusion. This includes those with motorised vehicles, a landline phone or refrigerator, a government employee in the household, etc. With better targetting of subsidies, the bill is likely to shrink. One data that the government is yet to release is the exact caste structure of the population. All we know now is that scheduled castes account for 18.5% of the households, while scheduled tribes make up for 11%. In order for the government’s efforts on improving the lot of rural household to be fruitful, the SECC needs to be made a decadal exercise like the Census.