Final word on poverty? PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 23 May 2011 00:00
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Faced with a barrage of figures on poverty—27.5% in 2004-05 according to the Planning Commission, 37.2% for 2004-05 according to Professor Tendulkar and 77% according to the late Arjun Sengupta—a Census seems the best option. Sure it will cost R2,000 crore or so, we were told the last time the government spoke of a Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census, but at least we’ll know. The team, not the same one that does the decennial Census, will visit each and every house in the country, get a response from them on a number of parameters, each of which will have a pre-assigned score, and on the basis of this, give us an accurate number of poor persons based on what they score. While that sounds the most logical thing to do, keep in mind there have been court cases on whether a Census should be conducted—the 2002 Census was kept in abeyance after the Supreme Court ruled on it—and the 2007 BPL Census was dropped due to the embroil on the parameters to be used to define poverty. Hopefully, the new definitions used for the 2011 BPL Census will be accepted by all, but keep in mind that past BPL Census numbers have been full of holes and have exaggerated poverty numbers—the results of the 2002 BPL Census were finalised in 2005, and not too many took the numbers seriously. If the current BPL Census is done with more rigour than the ones in the past, we’ll have to wait and see if it offers the same macro numbers that the decennial Census gives, on the number of pucca houses, for instance. Nor is it immediately clear how the issue of Unique ID numbers will be married to the BPL Census—after all, there’s no point identifying a family as BPL if this recording isn’t married with a UID number immediately.

Adding the caste dimension to this makes it even more volatile. Once the BPL/Caste Census is done, it’ll give rise to reports like 11.38% of SC households are poor, and just 3.97% have managerial jobs, and renew the clamour for increased reservations. Apart from the methodological issues that come up in terms of how valid the BPL/Caste Census data will be, since it is not being done by the Census of India, the data needs to be interpreted carefully. Merely reporting that 3.97%, or even 79.3% of SC households have managerial jobs is irrelevant unless it is linked to the proportion that have higher education degrees; the fact that more SC are poor than OBCs may have less to do with caste than with the fact that more SCs live in villages and are less educated. India’s just added another set of troubles with the BPL/Caste Census.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 March 2012 06:21 )

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