Monday, September 14, 2009

A motivated bid to boost the number of poor people

Gulf Today

INDIA's first Social Development Report, published in 2006, the year in which the present Left Democratic Front (LDF) government took office in Kerala, estimated that 12.72 per cent of the state's population was poor. A survey ordered by the state government, the result of which is due to be released next month, may indicate a threefold increase in the number of the poor.

The anticipated growth of poverty is not the result of deterioration in the condition of the people under LDF rule. It is the result of a motivated attempt to boost the number of persons below the poverty line (BPL).

The state government wants to increase the number of BPL families so that more people can benefit from programmes meant for such families. It expects the step to yield a dividend to the ruling coalition at election time.
For long, the Centre's estimate of poverty has been at variance with that of the state. The estimates differ widely because the two governments use different yardsticks to measure poverty.

Early in this decade the Centre pegged the number of BPL families in the state at 1.2 million. The state government conducted its own survey with the help of members of the Kudumbasree self-help mission and came up with a list which contained an additional one million families.

In 2006 the Centre pruned the BPL list. It said only about 900,000 families in the state were eligible for inclusion in the list. But the state government said there were 2.5 million BPL families.

The Centre identifies BPL families using 13 socio-economic parameters such as operational landholding, housing, clothing, food security, sanitation, ownership of consumer durables like TV sets, literacy, means of livelihood, number of children, type of indebtedness etc. A good showing on one or two of these parameters will result in exclusion from BPL category.

The norms adopted by Kerala permit exclusion from the BPL list only if the families have members who are regular employees of public, private or co-operative institutions or have concrete houses with plinth area of 100 square feet or more or one acre of land or a four-wheel vehicle for private use or an NRI member.

Last year Central and state officials undertook a joint review of poverty norms. While the Central officials conceded that the Kerala formula was progressive and sensitive and took into account poverty in its totality, no agreed norms emerged.

While the state government's norms may be in order, its BPL list has attracted widespread criticism on two grounds. One is that many poor families have been excluded. The other is that many ineligible families have been included.

The Kudumbasree mission, which conducted the survey for the state government, is the local version of the network of women's self-help groups (SHGs) set up by all states in furtherance of a Central scheme. Many Kudumbasree units are under the control of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the LDF. This has prompted the Congress, which heads the opposition United Democratic Front, to establish an SHG network of its own, named Janasree.

In view of the leanings of Kudumbasree units, there is room to suspect that political considerations played a role in the exclusion of eligible families and inclusion of ineligible ones.

In this year's budgets, both the Centre and the state announced plans to supply rice to BPL families with higher subsidies. Only those in the Centre's BPL list will get the benefits it has announced. The state will have to find its own resources to help those who are not in the Central list.

Eager to raise the number of families eligible for subsidised supplies, the state government ordered a fresh BPL survey. This time it requisitioned the services of teachers to undertake the field work. They began the massive exercise of gathering data from an estimated 8.6 million families in May.

While teachers have better credentials than Kudumbasree members to undertake the survey, the possibility of political bias still remains as many teachers too have strong political bias.

Local Self-government Minister Paloli Mohammed Kutty told the State Assembly recently that the new BPL list, which would exclude ineligible families and include eligible ones, would be published in October.

There is speculation that no fewer than 35 million families will be in the new list. That means 40 per cent of the population will be officially certified poor. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 14, 2009


keralafarmer said...

I have a doubt. One who is getting labour under NREGA is included in this BPL list?
In my opinion the unlimited support of the Center to eradicate poverty through this NREGA is a failure?
The average salary for men labour in Kerala is Rs. 350/ person, they are included in this BPL list?
Any person belongs to porter of railway, member of INTUC, TAITUE, CITUE etc are included in this BPL list?
In conclusion I have to say that poverty have to be removed by availing jobs/labour what ever it may be.

B.R.P.Bhaskar said...

I cannot say yes or no to keralafarmer's questions because the norms adopted by the Centre and the state do not provide ready answers to them.

NREGA is an extension of a practice which has been there since long. I remember the Travancore government ordering road construction in the 1940s to provide work to people. The idea is to help people earn some money so they can buy food. It is a relief measure rather than poverty alleviation measure. Ordinarily it will be the poor who come forward to work in such schemes.

sreejith said...

I have experimented with Kudumbashree on surveys and have found them very, very accurate. In this case, particularly, the psychological mindset that prevents people from disclosing their poor conditions could be circumvented using these women who are already networked.

Vidya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vidya said...

Hello Sir,

I would like to go through the State Development Report 2009, which you have mentioned in the post. I checked the State Planning Board website but couldnt find the report. Would you be able to signpost as to where to find this. This is for my research purposes.

Thank you

Village Resource Expert Centre said...

NREGA is a great project that could bring about a lot of employement and entrepreneurship opportunities for common man..
Village Resource Center ,Wayanad ,Kerala - ISRO SPB Network