New Delhi: The introduction of many new social welfare schemes could be delayed because the rural development ministry and the Planning Commission have yet to agree on a suitable new way to identify the poor, the main intended beneficiaries of these schemes.
Listen to K. Nagaraj, a retired professor with the Madras Institute of Development Studies talk about the problems surrounding the definition of ”BPL” and ”APL” households. Download here
One key programme that is likely to be hit is the proposed National Food Security Act, which aims to provide every Indian family that lives below the poverty line (BPL) 25kg of rice or wheat every month at Rs3 per kg.
Victim of stalemate: A file photo of potter Firoz Khan who is the sole breadwinner of a seven-member family in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Officials say the new poverty parameters would be ready over the next two years. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
BPL families are identified through a census carried out by the rural development ministry based on 13 socio-economic parameters. The ministry is now planning to go ahead with the new headcount beginning in March based on existing criteria for identifying BPL families.
“We had sent the file to the Planning Commission, which sent it back to us. Nothing has been decided yet. We are likely to conduct the census with the old parameters,” said a senior official in the rural development ministry, who did not want to be identified.
Officials said the new poverty parameters would be ready by the time the census is finished over the next two years, and these new BPL criteria could then be grafted on the data collected using existing parameters.
BPL information is the basis for welfare programmes, such as the public distribution system, the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, the Indira Awaas Yojana and various state government programmes.
The National Food Security Act could be one victim of the definitional stalemate.
“We have been working on the legislation as it was a promise given in the ruling party manifesto as well as in the President’s speech. But without having the data—the number of BPL families—how can we finalize the legislation?” asked a senior official in the agriculture ministry. He was referring to the speech given by President Pratibha Patil to the joint session of the 15th Lok Sabha, where she mentioned the food security legislation as part of the new government’s policy agenda.
The official added that there were proposals that the ministry should go ahead with the Planning Commission figures —the Plan panel estimate puts the number of BPL families at 62.5 million, while the state governments estimate that this number is closer to 107 million.
“But no final decision is taken yet. It is not sure if the government can introduce the legislation in the Budget session,” the official added. The nearly three-month-long Budget session begins on 22 February.
While the Planning Commission estimates the level of poverty, the census to identify BPL households is undertaken by the rural development ministry.
Last month, rural development minister C.P. Joshi had indicated that the ministry was looking at new criteria to identify BPL families, which could have caste and religion as determinants. This is in line with recommendations by a committee headed by N.C. Saxena, which suggested giving additional marks for scheduled castes and tribes, most backward castes, other backward classes and religious minorities.
Earlier, a panel headed by economist Suresh Tendulkar had estimated in a report submitted to the Prime Minister in November that four out of 10 people in rural areas in India are poor—a significant change from an existing estimate dating back to 2004-05, according to which around three in 10 people in rural areas are poor.