Centre may appoint panel under NITI Aayog to review urban census

As much as 27.65 per cent of the 63.4 million urban households in India are either homeless or are occupationally/socially vulnerable and, hence, are likely to be automatically included in a list of beneficiaries for government programmes.

In contrast, the figure for rural India is 0.92 per cent of 179.1 million households, according to the census for rural India released earlier. This shows there is a vast divergence between the people who are to be automatically included in the list of vulnerable people in rural and urban India.

Although this divergence can be attributed to the difference in approach and methodology in collating and interpreting data, it could be a nightmare for the policy makers and others seeking to use the data for prioritising the beneficiaries under various government schemes.

The unreleased data for urban India show a higher number of people to be automatically included though the total number of households enumerated is less than the rural census.

To look at all these inconsistencies between the two data sets, the Centre is expected to constitute a committee headed by NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya on the urban socio-economic caste census (SECC).

"It is not possible to redo the entire urban census as it will be time-consuming. What we can do is to use the same set of questions to review the automatic inclusion criteria, or try and bring about some consistency between the indicators," said a senior official. Panagariya already heads a panel on poverty elimination and caste census. This one is the expected to be the third.

The official said that unless there was some similarity between the two sets of numbers, it would be difficult for the government to go ahead with its planned objective of better targeting the poor for social programmes through these numbers. "There have also been some questions over the verification process of urban data, which is why it is taking time to be released," said the official.

The findings for urban India showed 27.65 per cent of urban India comprises those who are homeless or reside in shanties, which are made of plastic sheets, grass, thatch, bamboo, mud, unburnt brick, etc.

These also include households that do not have any income from any source, or is engaged in begging or rag picking. There are also households with all members aged between 18 and 60 years either have a disability or are chronically ill.

The SECC for urban India, which was done alongside the SECC for rural India, was based on the parameters and indicators as suggested by a committee headed by S R Hashim of the erstwhile Planning Commission. It ranked those households which are not automatically included or excluded on a scale of one to 12, where 12 is most vulnerable and is the closest to being automatically included while those in the 1-4 grade are the least vulnerable.

This methodology showed that if the households that are ranked 4-12 are added to the list of automatically included, which is 27.65 per cent, an urban poverty number close to 35 per cent of the 63 million surveyed was derived.

The indicators adopted by SECC urban for arriving at its automatic exclusion number or the automatic inclusion numbers is also vastly different and inconsistent with the rural.

Officials said the SECC for rural India was based on robust approach and was according to the method suggested by former member of National Advisory Council N C Saxena and thereafter analysed by former Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen.

However, in the case of urban SECC, the data was collected based on the suggestions and methodology of the Hashim report, though the report was not formally accepted by the government.

In the SECC for rural areas, 39.39 per cent of the 179.1 million rural households were automatically excluded, while in the urban census 31.23 per cent of the 63.4 million urban households were automatically excluded.

In other words, 70.5 million of rural households were not included, while 19.7 million of urban households were automatically excluded from the list.

The urban SECC showed that 13.37 per cent of the 63.4 million urban households have a dwelling unit of four rooms or more with walls made of brick or stone and concrete roof. Almost 11.56 per cent of the total urban households have any one of the following assets: four-wheeler, air conditioner, and computer or laptop with internet connection.

The data also showed that 6.29 per cent of the 63.4 million urban households have any three or more of refrigerator, landline, washing machine or two-wheeler motorised vehicle.

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