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A government pilot to identify the country’s poorest

New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) The rural development ministry will launch a pilot project across 256 villages next month in a bid to identify the poor under a new set of parameters to be adopted for the BPL (below the poverty line) Census 2011.

The government is giving highest priority to a correct listing of BPL people as part of its efforts to push for inclusion through better targeting of subsidies.

‘There is great anxiety at the higher levels of government that work should be done correctly. Everybody including academics and activists are cooperating,’ Rural Development Secretary B.K. Sinha told IANS in an interview.

A correct list will ensure that the benefits of central welfare schemes go only to the genuine poor and help the government prune its whopping Rs.60,000-crore food subsidy bill.

Sinha said a large number of benefits flow from the BPL card, including concession in housing and ration, and non-deserving people endeavour to get the benefit. ‘The real poor are voiceless. This is the political economy of BPL cards.’

The pilot will test all the parameters evolved in consultation with top experts.

Sinha said the 2002 BPL census based on a 13-point scoring method had drawn severe criticism from certain quarters and an expert group was constituted in 2008 to recommend a suitable methodology for conducting the census.

The group, headed by N. C. Saxena, recommended automatic exclusion and inclusion of certain groups and grading remaining households on a scale of 1 to 10.

The exclusion criterion suggested by the expert group includes families who own double the land of the district average of the agricultural land per household (if it is partially or wholly irrigated), those who have three or four wheeled motorized vehicles such as jeeps or Sports Utility Vehicles and families who have at least one mechanized farm equipment such as tractor, power tiller, thresher and harvester.

It suggested that income tax payers and families who have a person drawing a salary of Rs.10,000 per month in private organizations or employed in government on a regular basis with pension or equivalent benefits should not be counted in BPL category.

The inclusion criterion suggested by the expert group includes designated primitive tribal groups, households headed by a single women or minor, households with disabled person as bread earner, homeless households, destitute households which are predominantly dependent on alms and designated most discriminated against Scheduled Caste groups called Maha Dalits.

Sinha said the earlier design to identify BPL families was complex and left scope of manipulation.

‘We felt the design should be simple. We brought experts together and discussed 4-5 methodologies and arrived at a unanimous opinion.’

Sinha said to ensure accuracy of the data, the results of pilot study will be corroborated with NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) 66th round survey and a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) where people in the village will tell who were the poor living there.

‘If we are able to correctly identify poor people, sixty percent battle against poverty is won,’ he said.

Sinha said that the BPL individuals will also be assigned identity number by the Unique Identitification Authority of India.

The ministry, he said, will analyse the data from the pilot study before replicating the model across the country.

The BPL censuses have so far been held in 1992 (for eighth five year plan), 1997 (for ninth five year plan) and 2002 (for 10th five year plan). The rural development ministry provides financial and technical support to states for conducting the census generally in the beginning of the five-year plan.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)

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