New Delhi: The government has decided to wait for the socio-economic caste census to arrive at what comprises the below poverty line (BPL) population.

The government will take multiple dimensions of deprivation based on indicators collected through the census, expected by December-January, for determining entitlements poor rural households will receive under various welfare schemes, the Planning Commission and rural development ministry said in a joint statement on Monday.

A panel working on the BPL census has divided rural households into three categories: those that have to be compulsorily excluded, those that have to be compulsorily included, and those that fall in between with varying deprivation levels.

Discussing criteria: Jairam Ramesh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia in<br></br>New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PTI

Abhijit Sen and Mihir Shah, Planning Commission members, recently said the government should wait for the socio-economic caste census (SECC) to arrive at the correct number of poor people in India, Mint reported on 26 September.

Sen met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week to discuss this issue. Ahluwalia met Singh on Sunday and Ramesh on Monday.

Last month, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the apex planning body said that at June prices, the spending threshold per capita for the poverty line in cities was Rs32 per day and Rs26 in villages, as per provisional analysis based on a method suggested in 2009 by the late economist Suresh D. Tendulkar.

This has led to criticism from states and civil society.

The Tendulkar committee had estimated poverty in India at 37.2% of the population in 2004-05.

Ahluwalia said the threshold numbers were given in response to a specific query by the apex court, and poverty figures from the Tendulkar report were made the basis in the affidavit. “The Planning Commission certainly does not think that those earning more than Rs32 and Rs26 in urban and rural areas a day are not significantly stressed," Ahluwalia said. “In fact, for food entitlement under the food security Bill, the Planning Commission is with what has been suggested by the National Advisory Council."

The opposition isn’t buying the argument.

“The affidavit was a total fraud and absurd... Now what they are saying is that the Planning Commission has not taken a view that benefits should be restricted to below poverty line. If it was this, then what is the need of a BPL cap?" said Murli Manohar Joshi, a senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In July, an empowered group of ministers (eGoM) decided to categorize 46% of the 75% rural population and 28% of the 50% urban population that will be covered under the food entitlement scheme as priority. This has to be approved by the Union cabinet.

“An expert committee will be appointed to ensure that this methodology (as conducted by the SECC) is consistent with the provisions of the food security Bill once it is finalized," Ramesh said, adding that only 9% of the rural development ministry’s 1 trillion expenditure goes to BPL.

Experts and civil society organizations will be consulted on arriving at a methodology for entitlements under various welfare schemes once the census is complete, Ahluwalia and Ramesh said in the statement.

The “Tendulkar report had a logical flaw which needed to be corrected. However, in order for the SECC to be successful, both expenditure distribution and deprivation levels need to be looked into," said Y.K. Alagh, who first defined poverty based on calorific values in the 1970s. “Besides, large-scale consultation with civil society is required."

He also said standards in key areas such as education and health should be set and be made applicable across states.

Anuja contributed to thisstory.