Bharat still lives on the edge, but 4 out of 10 rural households should not get govt subsidy
The results of the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) exercise that started in 2011 are just out. Of the 640 districts, the draft lists for 628 are in place while the final list of 277 is available. The 12 districts that are still to be mapped include all nine in Delhi, two in Maharashtra and one in Himachal Pradesh. The available SECC data pertains to rural India.
Rural India accounts for 17.91 crore households (73%) of total 24.39 crore. It does not paint a pretty picture of the average rural citizen. But the numbers could change once details from all over the country come in. The data will be a great tool for not just the government and policy-makers but also for industry. One detail the government has been loathe to declare is the caste break-up.
Unlike the Census, where the government must keep the individual’s personal information confidential, all personal information given in SECC is open for use by government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households. Three census components in SECC were conducted by separate authorities under the coordination of the Department of Rural Development. The Department of Rural Development conducted the census in rural areas while the ministry of housing & urban poverty alleviation covered urban areas. The caste census was done under the administrative control of the home ministry.
What are the big findings from the SECC data?
SECC provides state-wise data on the type of households, gender, education levels, ownership of assets, employment and income, and land ownership profile, among others.
But the big news is that there has not been much progress in rural India nearly a quarter century after the reforms process started. Though there is a great focus on farmers and agriculture in the government and outside, SECC shows that over 51% of rural India survives on manual casual labour, while only 30% lives on cultivation. Basically, agriculture is not the holy cow that it is made to be. Of the rest, 1.61% are non-agricultural enterprise owners, while less than 1% are either beggars or ragpickers.
The bad news does not end there. In rural India, 44.5% households live in kuccha houses. Over 35% rural population is illiterate—over 315 million of the 884 million Indians in rural areas. A shade under 10% are higher secondary pass or more, while another 9.6% have cleared their class X exams. Rajasthan leads with 47.6% illiterate followed by MP (44.19%) and Bihar (43.85%). Leading the pack are Lakshadweep (9.3%), Kerala (11.4%) and NCT Delhi (13.6%). If this is the demographic dividend that the government is talking about, there’s simply nothing to fall back on.
How have things changed?
Some broad trends have not changed. If one compares data from How India, Earns, Spends and Saves that was compiled by Rajesh Shukla of NCAER in 2004, many things are static. The number of households was much lower at 144.2 million in 2004 compared to 243.9 million now. But basic demographics have not changed. The base of scheduled caste families changed marginally from 18.3% in 2004 to 18.4% in 2011. The scheduled tribe base remains static at 10.6%. In the new data, women head 22 million (12.3%) households while disabled persons head 11 million (6.1%).
How well-to-do are rural families?
It is not that all rural households are badly off. Of the 17.91 crore rural households, 7.05 crore (39.39%) meet at least one of the 14 parameters of exclusion—own a motorised 2/3/4 wheeler or fishing boat; mechanised 3-4 wheeler agricultural equipment; pay income or professional tax; owns a fixed line phone or refrigerator; at least one person in the household is a government employee, etc. That effectively means these households would over time be removed from the list of those entitled for various subsidies offered by the government.
How does this data help the government?
The government has a clear picture on the deprivation levels of households. SECC takes into account seven criteria for measuring deprivation. These are households with only one room with no solid walls and roof, those with no adult member aged 15-59, female-headed households with no adult male aged 15-59, those with differently-abled members and no able-bodied member, SC/ST households, those with no literate member above the age of 25, and landless households deriving a major portion of their income from manual casual labour.
So while the government gets a clear picture of deprived families, the 14 exclusion parameters will help it identify households that do not need subsidies in future. Basically that means four in 10 rural households will not be eligible for any government subsidy.
What kind of devices are there with the people?
Rural households have a long way to go as far as ownership of assets is concerned. Only 37 million households (20.69%) have some form of motorised transport. But if there is one device that has permeated deep into the country, it is the mobile phone—over 68% households (122 million) have a mobile connection, while 28% (50 million) have no connectivity whatsoever. And 1% have both mobile and fixed line connections.