Count of India's poor begins from Tripura

AGARTALA/NEW DELHI: A nationwide census begins with Tripura Wednesday to identify Indians living BEL )ow the poverty line (BPL) and help determine those eligible for social welfare schemes meant for the poor.

However, the state's Left Front government Tuesday announced that it would not accept any pre-determined figures of poor and all states should be consulted on the methodology of the survey.

"Our government would not accept the preset figures of poor people. Central government should take the opinion of all the state governments across the country about the methodology of the BPL survey," Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said after inaugurating a day-long workshop here on the survey.

"I have written letters to all chief ministers and the Planning Commission drawing their attention about the pre-fixed data of poor people of all the states before the survey," he said.

Being conducted after 14 years, the mammoth exercise will also take a head count for various caste and religious groups in the country.

Carried out jointly by the ministries of rural development, and housing and urban poverty alleviation, and the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, the survey will roll out from Hezamara rural development block in western Tripura.

The government in May gave the go-ahead to the census, the findings of which will also help in extending the Food Security Act that promises subsidised grain to the poor.

The survey, which takes place every five years in rural areas, will for the first time include urban households as well. Chandigarh would be the first city where the socio-economic caste census will begin July 18.

"The electronically conducted paperless survey would be completed in the entire country by March next year," union Rural Development Secretary B.K.Sinha said.

The latest data of the Planning Commission indicates that poverty (in India) has declined to 32 percent in 2009-10 from 37.2 percent five years ago.

The plan panel had in December 2005 appointed a four-member committee to suggest alternate concepts of poverty and recommend changes in the existing procedures of official estimation of poverty.

The committee was headed by noted economist Suresh D. Tendulkar (who passed away last week), then member of the prime minister's economic advisory council (EAC) and later chairman of the National Statistical Commission.

The committee had submitted its report in November 2009.

"The survey would be conducted under the Planning Commission formula, mostly the Tendulkar method," Sinha said.

Citing previous improper BPL surveys, Sinha said that during a visit to a village in Gaya district of Bihar in 2009, he found that those villagers who had been surviving by eating rats had not been included in the BPL pilot survey in 2002, but a family in a nearby village with three-storeyed building and other assets had been included in the list.

According to the officials, the people living without shelter, the destitutes, beggars, manual scavengers, primitive tribal groups, and legally released bonded labourers would get priority to be included in the BPL lists.

Those families that own a vehicle or two-wheelers, a concrete house or a house with three or more rooms or a fixed phone, a fishing boat or agricultural equipment, pay professional or income tax to the government, have a member in government service, earn above Rs.10,000 per month or have Kisan Credit Cards with Rs.50,000 and above would not be included in the BPL list.

"Along with the BPL survey, the caste census would be conducted simultaneously across the country and that would also be started from Wednesday," Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India C. Chandramauli said in the workshop.

"The central government has directed to complete the caste census, the first-ever in independent India, by December this year," he said adding that after the completion of caste census, the rural development ministry would provide the data to the census authority for processing.

Instead of pen and paper, the census enumerators will carry indigenously developed tablet computers to record the data. The Bharat Electronic Ltd (BEL) is supplying these low-cost computers.