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Rich Country, Poor People.

Byline: Faizan Usmani

Contradictions are everywhere in India. It is the world's largest democracy and has the third largest economy but over 60% of its rural population lives well below the poverty line. It seems democracy and poverty go together in India based on a directly proportional relationship since the country became independent in 1947.

The Ministry of Rural Development in India has recently released data from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2015. SECC is conducted every year to determine the standard of living of rural households in the country and provides data on castes along with socio-economic indicators that play a decisive role in measuring the existing poverty levels among the rural populations.

The 2015 census was carried out in 640 districts (179 million households) and investigated many socio-economic indicators like tribe/caste status, religion, income, education, employment, occupation, housing and assets and land owned in both household and individual categories.

According to the census, less than 5% of rural households in the country pay income tax and the total number of taxpayers is merely around 5% even in such rich states as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

In almost 75% of rural families, the main earning member makes less than Rs 60,000 per year (or Rs 5,000 per month), in contrast to 8% of those who somehow manage to earn Rs 10,000 a month.

As per the data, owning an automobile in a rural household is more than a luxury, as just 20% of rural families own a vehicle. These numbers further decline when it comes to having common domestic appliances like refrigerators, as only 11% of rural households own a refrigerator. Around 72% of rural residents have a phone, mostly a mobile phone set due to its affordability and flexible payment mechanism.

Alarmingly, more than 50% of rural India derives its daily income from manual labour and that too casually, suggesting that people don't have a permanent source of income. To make things worse, more than 90% of rural households do not have salaried jobs and trusted sources of paid employment. They have to make a daily effort to find work to meet their livelihood needs.

The survey reveals that more than 50% rural households don't own land, while 40% of those who own land do not use it for irrigation. About 30% of the rural population derives its livelihood from cultivation and agricultural activities.

The use of agricultural and irrigation equipment is at the lowest and just 10% of rural farmers own any kind of irrigation equipment; less than 4% of them use mechanised equipment during farming. Less than 4% have an SBI Green Card, which is an agricultural credit card introduced by the State Bank of India to support local farmers, entitling them to draw at least Rs 50,000 per month.

The ratio of higher education among the rural population in India is at the lowest compared to its urban population. As per the census, less than 10% of rural children get higher secondary education while barely 3.41% of households have a graduate family member.

When rural households are studied on caste basis, the findings become more shocking. For example, the census suggests a stark difference in the living standards of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Scheduled Castes (SC) when compared with others."

In rural populations, more than 22% belongs to a Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Scheduled Caste (SC), the most oppressed sections in the country. Less than 5% percent of the ST and SC categories have a family member who earns over Rs 10,000 per month in comparison with the others" category, where the total number of breadwinners is almost double.

Many efforts are made to promote and protect economic, social, educational and economic interests, but in vain, as only 4.38% of rural ST households and 3.96% of SC households are offered employment opportunities in the government sector. Their employment ratio in the private sector is even lower. Just 1.48% of the ST communities and around 2.42% of scheduled castes are hired by the private sector.

Namala Paul Divakar, General Secretary of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), believes the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2015 is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long."

He says that the socio-economic development of the Indian rural areas has never been on the government's priority list and these sections of Indian society keep falling behind due to lack of targeted development initiatives as well as non-implementation of state policies related to the betterment of rural households.

Rural areas in India's north zone are a bit richer than the south, while the eastern and central regions are at the bottom of the study which is based on the measures of deprivation identified by the SECC. As revealed in the survey, the most deprived rural communities in India also include those who live in Uttar Pradesh, which is often considered a prosperous province because of the phenomenal progress and development it has achieved though mainly in its urban areas.

In total, over 60% of the surveyed rural households were found to be deprived, according to the deprivation measures, which include poverty, unemployment, lack of education and landlessness as well as reliance on manual labour. In more than 52% of rural India, the main income earner makes not more than 4 dollars a day (80 dollars a month).

In the largest land area in the country, 47.5% rural population of the northwest state of Rajasthan is illiterate. In other words, every second rural resident in the area is uneducated.

The literacy rate in some states is on the decline such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand where more than 180 million rural people are illiterate compared to the over 300 million uneducated people living in other parts of rural India.

According to the SECC, three out of ten rural households live in one-room dwellings, whereas 22 million families live in houses made of bamboo, grass, or plastic with a thatched roof. Living conditions for scheduled tribes and scheduled castes are more unfavourable in the central and eastern states of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, while rural households in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have the lowest family incomes and a majority of their residents rely on casual manual labour for their basic livelihood.

According to Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Centre for Social Research, New Delhi, the SECC 2015 is more than a shocking report, as it evidently shows that large sections of the Indian population, mainly in rural India, have not received the perks of the country's high economic growth though billions are spent on different welfare schemes and poverty alleviation programs.

Despite over six decades of independence, millions still continue to languish in depressing poverty, deprived of most social benefits like job security, education and a roof over their heads. Policymakers and economists have been keeping their eyes closed. Government after government is guilty of this criminal neglect of the disempowered," says Kumari.

She is more concerned about the generational poverty' in rural areas, which is more critical than the other socioeconomic indicators of the census. We need to create an ecosystem for faster growth of productive jobs outside the agrarian sector. Social protection schemes need to be universalised," says Ranjana Kumari.

What can be more paradoxical than having a rising economy as well as the largest number of the poor in the world at the same time In case of India, however, the overall situation is miserable and wretched, as in a country of 1.2 billion, tens of millions of people still live in abject poverty and destitution.
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Publication:South Asia
Date:Oct 31, 2015
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