Millennium Post

Precious little has changed

Sixty years since independence and not much <g data-gr-id="46">has</g> changed. Census exercises like the decadal census and the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) provide an important data source for assessing lacunae in public policy and bridging those critical gaps. The SECC attempts to capture the multi-dimensionality of poverty through deprivation parameters like conditions of houses, literacy of household members, etc.<g data-gr-id="48">Caste</g> being a rigidly hierarchical and strongly rooted reality in India, eventually resulted in poverty being inextricably linked with is a sad reality that the poor in India are overwhelmingly SC or ST, especially in rural areas.The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) about the socio-economic status of rural households in India throws a depressing light on what the country has achieved despite being a welfare state for over sixty years. Which is to say that the country has not achieved much. The SECC data has provided a grim picture of rural India. There are pockets where the reserved castes are doing better than forward castes. 

This reveals the alarming situation of rising inequities and ineffective design of affirmative action policies. Education is becoming increasingly elusive as well. Rising literacy levels are not having adequate network effects in the rural areas, as shown by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) <g data-gr-id="40">report .</g>Only 5% of those who are literate are graduates which speaks alarmingly for the lack of effective education and <g data-gr-id="49">skilling</g> happening in this regions. Rising Inequities are also a cause for concern. Though absolute poverty has declined, inequities have arisen. The government welfare support has failed since with rising incomes, move towards the private sector is seen as being profitable.It is perhaps opportune that the SECC has revealed such a glaring reality on the ground. 

The need of the hour is for an evidence-based approach which hopefully will be the SECC’s logical conclusion in the policy formulation process. Political commentators have insisted that the government is hiding the caste census data fearing a backlash from the backward castes which form a huge vote bank for any government. According to the 1931 census and the 1980 Mandal commission, the backward classes numbered around 54% of the total population. If the new census figures turn out to be higher than this, the backward classes could ask for a bigger share in the education and jobs pie.While the Union government has shown no urgency in using the data, adopting a laissez-faire attitude in selectively revealing the data, the states too, are not utilizing the data efficiently. 

Very few states will probably use the SECC for identification of beneficiaries for the National Food Security Act (NFSA). It must be noted that its been two years since the Act was enacted. Enough time for the bureaucrats to do something. The present ruling dispensation is culpable of procrastinating on the date of implementation of the NFSA. Significantly, some states where the final lists have not been readied are part of the NDA as well. This casts some serious aspersions on the sincerity of the government in using the SECC data for the purpose it was designed for.
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