New Delhi: Days after the killing of top Congress party leaders in Chhattisgarh by Maoist rebels, the government has moved to bridge the development deficit by enhancing the purview of anti-poverty programmes in some of the country’s most backward areas that are also affected by the insurgency.

The ministry of rural development headed by minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday accepted the inclusion and exclusion criteria suggested by a panel headed by Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen submitted on 22 May.

The panel, formed to suggest a mechanism to implement a 2003 Supreme Court order that sought to make the below the poverty line (BPL) list “dynamic" through a system of continuous updation including deletion and addition, has recommended issuing additional BPL cards to 3.5-4 million households in 82 backward districts, most of which are affected by the Maoist insurgency.

“This is a response to the development deficit," said Himanshu, assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a Mint columnist. “It is also a fact that most of these districts are Maoist insurgency affected," he said.

The Sen panel “examined the issue of developing an interim system to update the existing BPL lists till the full implementation of the (all India) SECC (Socio-Economic Caste Census) 2011", according to the report reviewed by Mint. The SECC is surveying all rural households in the country to collect a number of socio-economic indicators such as literacy, housing, assets and caste.

The survey, which will have the most updated data, will help the government determine how to target social welfare schemes and subsidies to ensure they reach the beneficiaries.

The report said the panel “examined the issue of developing an interim system to update the existing BPL list till SECC 2011 is finalized". It found that the current BPL list “includes households that are not eligible" and the panel is also aware that “the existing BPL list will in any case need to be revised in the near future on the basis of the SECC 2011". The interim system, the panel noted, should be such that households included in the BPL list are not excluded in any future revision based on the SECC 2011 results. The committee was also of the view that the “interim system" should be “focused on where existing anomalies are such that waiting for the SECC 2011 process to be complete is not acceptable".

Sen said identification based on the interim criteria was expected to hold even after the SECC data is available. “We know how the SECC data looks like and that it will match when it is completed," he said.

Accordingly, it had decided to restrict its recommendations to IAP (Integrated Action Plan) districts that are ranked by the Planning Commission as backward on the basis of female literacy, proportion of scheduled castes/scheduled tribes, access to electricity and proportion of population in agriculture, which “have a special set of problems including those related to left-wing extremism."

“The committee recommends that a universal approach be adopted in 22 IAP districts...(with) all rural households eligible for BPL cards subject to exclusion if any household member is payer of income or professional tax is a government servant or owns a four-wheel vehicle. A procedure involving self-declaration by households can be adopted in these districts in order that households do not have to wait for verification to obtain BPL cards," the report said. Only 2.2 million families in these districts have been included in the BPL list, the report said, adding: “This appears too low and is prima facie evidence of at least some exclusion of the poor."

In another 34 IAP districts, households headed by a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe member, or by a woman or having an elderly or disabled member, should be included in the BPL list, the panel said, with the same exclusion criteria as in the 22 districts.

To ensure that the list of beneficiaries remains dynamic, the panel said that steps should be taken to set up a “permanent mechanism" which would act as the interface between the union rural development ministry and the state governments in accordance with the Supreme Court order.

Ritika Khera, assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, said she “welcomed any move at universalization of BPL cards" that helps the process of inclusion.

The recommendations come as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in New Delhi is grappling with the challenge posed by left-wing extremism after an attack on the Congress party’s top leadership in Chhattisgarh by Maoist rebels on Saturday.

The attack claimed more than two dozen lives, including those of Chhattisgarh state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, Mahendra Karma, the founder of the anti-Maoist civilian militia Salwa Judum, and former Congress legislator Uday Mudliyar. Former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla was critically injured in the attack and is in hospital.

The attack is being viewed as one of the worst since Maoists killed Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Lok Sabha MP Sunil Mahato in 2007. The Maoist insurgency that has affected large swathes of India has often been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India’s “biggest internal security challenge".

Kirti V. Rao in New Delhi contributed to this story.

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