New Delhi: Faced with the challenge of deciding which class of the poor should receive which state benefits, the government has formed a committee under Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen to analyse data from the socio-economic and caste census (SECC) and determine the beneficiaries of various rural development programmes.
Once in place, the new system is expected to help the government better target the huge sums of money it spends on social welfare schemes. Subsidies and benefits under various welfare programmes add up to almost Rs.3 trillion, roughly 3.5% of India’s gross domestic product.
The committee will include Kirit Parikh, a former Planning Commission member; Mahendra Dev, director of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research; Nikhil Dey of Suchna Evam Rozgar Adhikar Abhiyan; Himanshu, an assistant professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University; and P.P. Mitra, chief economic adviser in the rural development ministry.
SECC has surveyed all rural households in the country to collect a number of socio-economic indicators such as literacy, housing, assets and caste.
The adoption of the new methodology to determine the recipients of government benefits means all welfare programmes will be delinked from the Planning Commission’s below poverty line (BPL) criterion. It is aimed at ensuring that no poor or deprived household will be excluded from coverage under different welfare programmes.
The committee will also ensure that the system is consistent with the provisions of the Food Security Bill that are still being worked out. It has been asked to consult state governments, experts and civil society organizations and submit its report by 31 March 2013, on how best to target spending on social schemes.
Sen said 90% of the SECC data is now available although it will take longer before the complete data is in place. “The committee will start working with the data already available,” he said.
N.C. Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council, said it will take at least another six-eight months to complete the data collection exercise.
“The bigger challenge is that Planning Commission thinks the methodology applied in collecting the data is flawed, which may throw up unreliable numbers. The states also have their own schemes. There are a large number of complicated issues to be handled,” he said.
In a joint press statement, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said in October 2011 that the government will take into account multiple dimensions of deprivation based on the indicators that are being collected through SECC for arriving at the specific entitlements that rural households will receive under various central government programmes and schemes.
“The present Planning Commission methodology will not be used to impose any ceilings on the number of households to be included in different government programmes and schemes,” the statement said.
Pronab Sen, former principal adviser in the Planning Commission, said what needs to be seen is whether the committee will or will not use the same criterion for all states and what will be the revised cut-off for classifying households as BPL.
“But the basic issue is that any exercise being done today is confined to the SECC data and the NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) questionnaire. So I would not expect major surprises,” he said.