Issues in News: Socio-economic caste census (SECC): A step in the right direction?

UPSC Exam Preparation: Issues in News – Socio-economic caste census (SECC): A step in the right direction?

Poverty is one of the gravest problems faced by India today. India has the single largest concentration of poor in the world. Every third person in India is poor, 29.8% of the total population of India is poor and the World Bank estimates that 13% of the global poor reside in India.

The factor of poverty has severely inhibited the overall development of the country even after achieving impressive G.D.P growth.

Many steps have been taken by consecutive governments for poverty alleviation. Thousands of crores have been spent and numerous programs have been initiated to fight this scourge. However, one of the biggest problems faced by policymakers in this regard is defining poverty. “Who “ shall be considered as poor and on   “ what” basis?

To eliminate poverty, it is very important to correctly determine who is poor? This will help the government to devise appropriate measures to tackle poverty and to reduce leakages/ diversions in the benefits provided to the poor. Over the years various committees have been appointed for the purpose of defining poverty estimation methodology.

As of today, poverty is measured using the below poverty line ( BPL) method which takes in to account only one dimension, which is income. But one indicator cannot capture the multiple aspects that constitute poverty. Poverty is multidimensional, i.e.., it is made up of several factors that constitute poor people’s experience of deprivations such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, sanitation etc.

The methodology used presently has failed to take in to account the multidimensional aspect of poverty into account satisfactorily.


Why is SECC in news?

 An Expert Group under the Chairmanship of former Finance Secretary  Sumit Bose was constituted to study the objective criteria for allocation of resources to States and identification and prioritization of beneficiaries under various programme using Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data. The committee has recently submitted its report to the ministry of rural development (MoRD) and has recommended the use of SECC data for all government schemes instead of the below poverty line (BPL) data.


What is socio economic caste census (SECC)?

  1. The SECC was commissioned by the previous government in 2011 to canvas every household ( urban and rural) in the country to ascertain their socio-economic status so as to allow both central and state governments define poverty and to take steps to eliminate various types of deprivations faced by the Indians.
  2. SECC was a mega project conducted jointly by three ministries vice MoRD, ministry of housing, urban development & poverty alleviation and ministry of home affairs.
  3. This was the first time since 1931 to ask every person their caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups are well off and which caste groups are worst off and to better target the welfare schemes.


SECC has measured deprivations along seven criteria


Findings of the SECC 

Although, SECC was conducted in both urban and rural areas, only the data of rural areas has been published by the government.

  • A total of 24.39 Crore households are surveyed.
  • 91 Crore are rural households.
  • About 30% of the rural households are landless and derive major part of their income from casual, manual labour.
  • Among the land holdings,40% is not irrigated. Just 4% own any sort of mechanized agricultural equipment and just 10% own irrigational equipment.
  • Only 4.6% of the rural households pay income tax.
  • Nearly 75% of households earn less than Rs 5000 per month.
  • Less than 5% of SC/ST households earn more than Rs 10000 per month.
  • Only 5% of rural households depend on government jobs, 3.57% on private sector jobs.
  • As per the SECC data 36% of rural India is illiterate.
  • 52% rural households have no literate adult above 25 years.
  • Of the 64% literate rural Indians, only 1/5th have completed their primary education.
  • Only 5.4% have completed high school and a mere 3.4% have graduated from college.
  • A little more than 48% of the rural population is female and only 12.8% of the rural households are headed by women. Lakshadweep has the highest percentage of women-headed households with nearly 40% of the houses headed by women.
  • This was the first census which released the data on trans-genders. Trans-genders comprise only 0.1% of India’s rural population.



Various poverty estimation methodologies used in India

The BPL methodology used to estimate poverty has been developed over the years based on the recommendations of various committees,

Alagh committee

  1. Dr.Y.K. Alagh committee was set up in 1979 to determine a formula to measure poverty in India
  2. This committee recommended the “ minimum calorie intake” formula to define the poverty line. As per this formula people who consumed less than 2400 kilocalories per day in rural areas and 2100 kilocalories per day in the urban area were considered poor. Thus, the calorie intake became the basis for poverty line in India.
  3. However, this methodology was criticized by many as it takes in to account only consumption levels to measure poverty and leaves out other deprivations faced by people such as deprivations in education, health etc.

Suresh Tendulkar committee
In order to develop a better methodology of poverty estimation, an expert panel was constituted by the Planning commission in 2005. This committee was headed by prof. Suresh Tendulkar. The committee submitted its report in 2009 and recommended moving away from calorie intake method.

  1. The committee recommended adopting  ” M.R.P based consumption expenditure “ methodology to determine the poverty line.
  2. The consumption expenditure method included both expenditures incurred on calorie intake as well as on other essentials like clothing, footwear, education, medical expenses etc.(both food and non-food).
  3. As per the recommendations of the Tendulkar committee, the poverty line was based on” monthly per- capita consumption expenditure” (MPCE). And the MPCE was fixed at Rs 673 per person per month for rural areas and Rs 860 per person per month for urban areas.The comm
  4. ittee recommended updating the MPCE levels every year after taking inflation in to account.
  5. The Tendulkar committee’s recommendations led to huge uproar all over the country. It was accused of setting the MPCE very low to artificially push down the poverty levels.

N. C. Saxena committee

  1. The rural development ministry in 2008 appointed a committee headed by N.C.Saxena to revise the parameters to calculate the poverty figures in the rural areas.
  2. The committee came out with new criteria of” automatic inclusion and automatic exclusion” in poverty estimation.
  3. According to this criteria, some disadvantaged families should be considered poor automatically and some families enjoying certain benefits should be excluded from the poverty estimation.

Rangarajan committee
The government appointed this committee in 2012 to revise the methodology of poverty estimation after the Tendulkar committee fiasco.

  1. The committee submitted its report in 2014 and fixed the MPCE for a person at Rs 972 for rural areas and Rs 1407 for urban areas.
  2. The committee preferred to use monthly per-capita expenditure of household of five rather than MPCE of an individual. This came out to be Rs 4860 per household in rural areas and Rs 7035 per household in urban areas.


Is SECC a better tool to estimate poverty than the BPL method?

Presently poverty in India is determined using the BPL method which is based on the income required to purchase food items (determined using calorie norms) and non-food items ( clothing, education etc).

  • SECC is more targeted and precise than the BPL method. While the BPL method identifies the number of poor people, SECC identifies who actually are poor. This will help in improving the efficiency of the government schemes and programmes, leads to better identification and targeting of beneficiaries and avoid duplication and fraud.
  • BPL method uses income as the sole criteria to define poverty but income alone can miss a lot. Poverty is multidimensional and SECC takes this aspect into account while determining poverty. A multidimensional approach is very necessary for the success of poverty alleviation programmes.
    For example, an area in which most people are deprived of education is going to require a different poverty reduction strategy when compared to an area where most people are deprived of housing facilities.
  • The deprivations faced by poor in various fields such as education, health, sanitation etc are not accounted in BPL method but are accounted in SECC. So SECC will help in not only poverty eradication but also eradication of various deprivations.
  • The gender-related issues of poverty is taken into consideration in the SECC which was missing in the BPL method. 


Drawbacks of SECC

  • Even though SECC was conducted in both urban and rural areas, the government has released only SECC data of rural India.
  • SECC collates data regarding the caste of the people. This caste related information faces the danger of being misused by political parties for their ulterior motives.
  • SECC data must be regularly updated in order to remove beneficiaries who have overcome their deprivations. This will put a huge burden on the part of the government.


Way Forward

A multidimensional approach that incorporates a range of indicators to capture the complexity of poverty is the need of the hour and the SECC seems to be a good tool in the hands of the government in this regard. However, the government should take necessary steps to avoid the misusing of SECC and also to strengthen the SECC in order to develop it into a powerful tool to fight the curse of poverty that has ravaged many Indians for centuries.

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