Sunday, July 12, 2015

Deprivation in India-Are the latest census figures realistic?

India is always considered a country of paradoxes. This is reinforced further by the census figures released recently highlighting the contradictions inherent in the growth of the country. It is unbelievable that more than two thirds of the rural households possess cell phones while the government wants to give heavily subsidized cereals at throw way price to 3 out of the 4 households under its National Food Security Act! If the figures trotted out are really true all the development programs to uplift the poor from poverty were wasted with no significant impact! Can this be true? It is hard to believe that really poor people would spend their precious resources for a cell phone which costs at least a few hundred rupees, in stead of on essential things in life. With government schemes like MNREGA income earning opportunities do exist in rural areas and according to some reports in many states there are few takers for this earning scheme. It is really hard to believe that rural population is languishing from lack of money for buying their essential needs to such an extent. If planning is based on these figures more subsidies can be expected from the government to address "poverty". Read further to get some idea about the implications emerging out of the set of figures put out by the government agency. 

Over two out of every three rural households own a mobile phone, the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 has found. At the same time, 36 per cent of rural Indians are illiterate, only 10 per cent households have someone with a salaried job and only 8 per cent households earn Rs 10,000 or more every month. The SECC findings, released last Friday, bring out statistics reflecting the state of poverty and deprivation in rural India as well as crucial social trends such as ownership of assets, gender dynamics, marital status, educational and employment. The mobile phone statistics contrast sharply with those for landlines. While only one per cent of rural households own a landline phone without a mobile, a whopping 68.35 per cent have mobiles as their only phone(s). In Uttar Pradesh, as many as 86 per cent rural households own no phone but mobiles. Households with both landline and mobiles constitute an additional 2.72 per cent of the rural population, with Kerala the highest among the states at 28.33 per cent. That leaves nearly 28 per cent rural households without any phone. In Chhattisgarh, this is particularly high at 71 per cent, mainly due to lack of connectivity and mobile towers, a reflection of the lack of development in the state, which has witnessed large-scale Naxal violence. The average size of a rural Indian household is nearly five members — 4.93 — the highest being in Uttar Pradesh at 6.26 and the lowest in Andhra Pradesh at 3.86. An overwhelming majority of households is predictably male-headed, but nearly 13 per cent do have a female head. In Rajasthan, around 91 per cent households in rural areas are headed by men, while in Kerala 26 per cent households are women-headed, the highest among the states. While divorces are a relatively common phenomenon in urban India, they remain almost rare in the rural landscape. Only 0.12 per cent of the rural population have been divorced, the highest in Mizoram at 1.08 percent. The findings list 41.64 per cent rural people as never married (the highest being in Nagaland at 56 per cent) but do not spell out the age group of these unmarried people. Educational levels remain dismal, with over a third of rural India illiterate. The proportion of those passing through the primary, secondary, senior secondary and higher secondary stages drops at each successive level, from nearly 18 per cent to 5 per cent, while only 3.45 per cent are graduates or above. The highest proportion for graduates is in the National Capital Territory and Delhi, at 9.6 per cent; among the states, Kerala tops at 8 per cent. Rural India remains largely dependent on self-employment or the unorganised sector. Less than 10 per cent households are dependent on salaried jobs, of which the majority are in government jobs. Also, 0.09 per cent of rural households are houseless, compared to 0.15 per cent in the urban areas.

There is no doubt that poverty does exist in pockets, if the term means inability to buy essential needs like food, medicine and others out of one's own earnings. Farmers' suicides which are happening in the country with sickening regularity have often been cited as the manifestation of poverty but these are happenings because of indebtedness caused by crop failures and other reasons. It is an established fact that what is needed is providing employment and earning opportunities in stead of handing out doles year after year as being practiced to day in modern India. The bundle of figures contained in the report does tell a story which highlights the uneven distribution of wealth in the country due to government's ineffective policies during the last 7 decades. Unless the agricultural sector is made dynamic through large scale injection of modern technologies and integration of nonviable fragmented land holdings, nothing much dramatic can be expected to improve the present situation in our rural landscape.


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