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Experts say assets such as computer, landline can’t be criteria to disqualify people from urban poor list

The panel, headed by a Niti Aayog member, has been set up to fine-tune the Socio-Economic Caste Census to identify urban poor.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2017 09:52 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta
The  current survey criteria automatically excludes families that own gadgets such as laptops, but experts say this isn’t indicative of the family’s wealth.
The current survey criteria automatically excludes families that own gadgets such as laptops, but experts say this isn’t indicative of the family’s wealth.(Getty Images/Vetta)

Owning a computer with an internet connection and a landline phone should not be the touchstone for disqualifying a person from welfare schemes for the urban poor, a government panel has suggested.

The Union housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry set up the expert committee, headed by NITI Aayog member and economist Bibek Debroy, this January to fine-tune the method of the 2011 Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) to identify the urban poor.

The panel is expected to submit its report this July.

“If recommendations of the Debroy panel are accepted, the count of poor households in urban areas is likely to increase from the current 35%,” said an official, who didn’t wish to be named.

Earlier, the government pegged the number of urban poor at 26.4% of the population. The figures were calculated using a methodology that former RBI governor C Rangarajan recommended.

The SECC for urban areas used three broad parameters, which has several subheads.

Identifying urban poor
  • Automatic exclusion
  • Automatic inclusion: Homeless, one-room house, no income, disabled
  • Scoring Index: Households assigned scores from 0 to 12 based on their vulnerabilities. Score 3 and above to be included in BPL list

Among these guidelines, one asked surveyors to “automatically exclude” a family from the below poverty line (BPL) list if it owns either of these — a four-room house, a four-wheeler, an air-conditioner, or a desktop or laptop computer with internet connection. Or, if the family has any three of these together — landline phone, refrigerator, washing machine and two-wheeler.

But the Debroy committee found that these “assets” don’t indicate a person’s financial health.

In states such as Assam, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, governments have given free computers to meritorious students, who could be from poor families.

The panel suggested that using these assets as a criterion for exclusion from welfare schemes will be “anachronistic” as such gadgets facilitate economic transactions efficiently and promote “social interactions among people”.

Hence, the committee recommended that these should be deleted from the SECC methodology.

The calculating system has another criterion, which is “automatic inclusion” of a household based on their social, occupational and residential vulnerability. For instance, a family is eligible for social benefits if it doesn’t have a home or income, and if it is headed by a woman or person with physical disabilities.

The Debroy panel suggested all adult earning members in an urban family, even daily or irregular earners, should be dropped from the “automatic inclusion” list as their income doesn’t reflect their economic vulnerability.

The third parameter is a scoring index. Households are given scores — zero to 12 — based on their vulnerabilities. Families with a zero score are ineligible to enter the BPL list.

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