The home ministry is opposing a proposal by the rural development ministry to merge a census to identify families living below the poverty line with the caste census, raising the possibility of a conflict between two key ministries.
“We have objected to the move as it would lead to many complications,” said a home ministry official.
The rural development ministry had recommended carrying out the two enumerations simultaneously to accelerate the process of determining the number of poor in the country, Mint reported on 29 November.
The caste census, to be conducted by the Registrar General of India (RGI), is scheduled to begin on 1 July. The below poverty line (BPL) census, to be conducted by the rural development ministry, is due to be launched in April and is expected to conclude by October.
Another home ministry official said it was impractical to execute both the projects at the same time.
“We are already overburdened with the caste census and it will be very difficult for an enumerator to carry out two things simultaneously,” the second official said. “The main challenge is how the same enumerator will ensure that someone actually comes under the category of BPL.”
Different states have different criteria for including people under the BPL category, the official pointed out, adding that RGI has been opposing collection of new data in the census as it is already overburdened.
“Then there will be problems related to data integrity and data processing,” the official said.
A rural devolvement ministry official said there was a need to evolve a consensus.
“This is a larger issue which does not involve just one ministry. The planning commission, home ministry and others are also involved and a consensus has to be evolved,” he said. “No single ministry can take a decision on its own.”
“A committee has been constituted under C. Rangarajan. He’ll take a view after hearing both the sides,” another rural development official said. Rangarajan is head of the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council.
All the four officials declined to be named.
The Planning Commission estimates there are 62.5 million BPL families, but state governments say the number is closer to 107 million.
A panel set up under former rural development secretary N.C. Saxena to review the way BPL numbers are estimated reported last year that only two in five officially identified as poor by the Planning Commission possessed either a BPL or an Antyodaya card.
The ministry had decided to revisit the existing method of conducting the census and undertook a pilot project across the country in August-September. The procedure for the pilot was arrived at after consultation with state governments to avoid pitfalls of the one-size-fits-all approach.
The BPL census, aimed at covering all of rural India, is part of the government’s efforts at better targeting of subsidies meant to benefit the poor.
The BPL card is used to obtain benefits under the government’s poverty alleviation programmes as well as to gain access to cheap foodgrain from the public distribution system, subsidized health insurance and scholarships. The crucial proposed food security Act would also be based on the determination of the number of poor by the BPL census.