In what could herald a major shift in the implementation of state-funded welfare schemes, an expert panel constituted by the government has recommended that the Social Economic Caste Census (SECC) data, that measures the multi-dimensionality of poverty, should replace the erstwhile Planning Commission’s Below Poverty Line (BPL).
The SECC 2011 expert panel, headed by former Finance Secretary Sumit Bose, Friday submitted its report to Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. While the panel’s terms of reference was limited to looking at “identification and prioritisation of beneficiaries” of the Ministry’s programmes, a senior official said that the decision to move away from the age-old practice of using BPL, if taken, would apply across all Central and state-funded welfare schemes.
The greatest impact would be on National Social Assistance Programmes for the elderly, widows and disabled persons as the adoption of the panel’s recommendations, would significantly expand the beneficiaries, requiring an additional expenditure of Rs 6700 crore annually. In all these programmes as well as in rural housing and livelihood schemes, the use of SECC as the criteria would also translate into a significant reallocation of Central funds disbursed to the states.
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“We will have to hold further deliberations with all ministries concerned as the beneficiary identification criteria would also apply to say the Petroleum ministry’s Ujjwala Yojana for LPG connections, the Power Ministry’s rural electrification scheme or the implementation of the National Food Security Act by the states,” said the official. The BPL, as fixed by the erstwhile Planning Commission based on income or consumption expenditure, has been the benchmark for targeting of beneficiaries for welfare schemes.
The SECC 2011 rural data, on the other hand, ranks rural households on various deprivation parameters. Accordingly, of the 17.94 crore rural households, 7.06 crore (40%) are automatically excluded based on their income and assets. Of the remaining 60% i.e. 10.73 crore households, 48.5 percent , i.e. 8.69 crore households reported facing one or other deprivation criteria in terms of housing, being female-headed or SC/ST households, landlessness etc. One percent, i.e. 16.32 lakh households, falls into the automatic inclusion criteria of being homeless, living on alms, manual scavengers or belonging to primitive tribal groups.
For National Social Assistance Programmes relating to the elderly, widows and disabled, the panel has said that all, except for those in households that are in the automatically excluded criteria, should receive funding. It goes on to state that the age limit for receiving pension of Rs 500 per month, from the central fund, should be brought down from the present 80 years to 70 years. In rural areas alone, the panel estimates, this would require an additional fiscal allocation of Rs 6000 crore as the beneficiary count would go up from the existing 2.10 crore to 5.27 crore as per SECC data.
It has also recommended that the age for beneficiaries of widow pension should be reduced from the present 40 years to 18 years, a one-time grant should be given for widow remarriage, financial assistance should be provided to parents of disabled children, all of which would require another Rs 700 crores. As per the panel report, nearly half of the rural households would be eligible for skilling programmes under the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY). Similarly, for the National Rural Livelihood Mission, the panel states that resource allocation to the states should be based on the SECC’s deprivation parameters such as female-headed households with no male adult member, SC/ ST households, those without a literate adult and landless households working as manual casual labour.
Using the data, the panel has also estimated that 2.95 crore rural families need to be provided housing, under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), as they are either shelterless or live in one or two room kutcha homes Panel chairperson Bose told The Indian Express, “Unlike BPL, the SECC identifies different kinds of deprivations which can be used for better targeting of government schemes. Opportunity should also be given for those excluded by holding hearings at gram sabhas where they can appeal. We have also suggested the need for Social Registry Information System with list of beneficiaries of all social security programmes.”
While the rural data of SECC was released by the ministry in 2015, the urban and the caste data were never made public by the government, a decision which will limit the use of SECC data to only schemes in rural areas as of now. For instance, while SECC data will be used for rural housing under PMAY, the urban component of PMAY will continue to depend on arbitrary identification of beneficiaries by the state governments.
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