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Survey: Lower castes make up 50% of India's poor

Apr 12, 2011

A pilot survey conducted by the Planning Commission finds that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continue to form half of the total poor in India. These communities even score high on illiteracy, homelessness, destitution and landlessness, the survey reveals.

New Delhi: Scheduled Castes and Tribes constitute half of the total "poor, deprived households", a pilot survey to identify the Below Poverty Line population has found. 

The survey found that SCs/STs were a mere 25% of the "non-poor households" who showed deprivation on some of the parameters -- ranging from housing to illiteracy to homelessness and destitution.

The findings reiterate the long-held hypothesis that dalits are the most-underprivileged sections of population and the easiest marker of poverty. 

The pilot survey is significant given that results have come from the representative sample of 166 villages across 22 states. It will form the basis for the full-fledged survey to be conducted soon to identify the poor. 

Vivek Kumar, sociologist with Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the findings proved that caste and class identities in the country overlapped and the social identity of dalits led to cumulative deprivation cutting across parameters for identification of poor. "Economic deprivation depends on social identity," he said, summing up the inferences from the pilot survey. 

That 22% of the population (SC/ST) forms half of the country's rural poor is in line with known facts about poverty statistics but it is startling that the theory continues to hold good. After the pilot survey, the anticipated household exercise to identify the poor – with methodology refined by Planning Commission member Mihir Shah for the Union rural development ministry – would show where the final figures stand for the country. 

While dalits and tribals form the bulk of poor households, their share drops to 25% among the non-poor households with deprivation, a fact which underlines the relationship between SC/STs and economic status. The communities are not just poor but also score high on kuchcha housing, illiteracy among adults, homelessness, destitution, landlessness with agricultural wages as their main source of income. 

The BPL survey is crucial because the identified families would form the target group of government's subsidy-based welfare schemes. According to observers, the BPL survey is crucial to the fate of dalits because they form the bulk of beneficiaries of targeted welfare. 

Vivek Kumar concurred with the findings of the pilot survey, saying, "YB Damle in 1970s had shown that social identity has an impact on the economic performance of people." 

The coming BPL survey would see a change in the methodology from previous years. The analysis of pilot survey by Planning Commission has shown that earlier BPL surveys could have been off the mark by as high as 50%.

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