SECC priority list will be ready by July 2012 when Food Security Bill gets ready

: Even as the Union government decided to defer the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in Uttar Pradesh until the Assembly election there was over, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar objected to the process which, among others, will determine beneficiaries under the proposed food security legislation.

Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh told The Hindu on Monday that the SECC priority list would be ready by June-July 2012 when the UPA government would be prepared with the Food Security Bill, now under the consideration of the parliamentary standing committee, for passage in Parliament.

Mr. Kumar wants the Centre to put the exercise on hold till the middle of March citing weather and paddy procurement.

Mr. Ramesh said the SECC would be held in Uttar Pradesh after the Assembly elections and completed by May-June; the Abhijit Sen (Member Planning Commission) Committee too would have completed its task of determining the BPL list of beneficiaries.

The Abhijit Sen Committee was set up when the government dispensed with the Tendulkar Committee cap after it came under fire from all quarters for treating those expending Rs. 36 in the urban areas and Rs. 26 in the rural areas a day above the BPL.

The new committee is expected to consider the various options on how the deprivation criteria are to be used to determine the cap on beneficiaries under all welfare schemes, particularly where legal entitlements have been guaranteed, or, as in the case of the food security in the anvil.

But a clear picture of the new cap will emerge only after an analysis of the data to be produced by the SECC, which will be ranking the households as per the exclusion and inclusion criteria based on the deprivation indicators.

However, the Bihar Chief Minister has, in his letter to Mr. Ramesh, questioned the rationale behind the present process and demanded that the job of enumeration be placed in the “hands of a competent and independent National Commission.”

Mr. Kumar had earlier written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue stressing that vesting the job with a specially constituted national commission would put an end to the controversy surrounding the preparation of the BPL list.

Informing Mr. Ramesh about the commencement of the SECC in Bihar, Mr. Kumar called for interventions if the exercise was to be made a success in the State. It should be left to the commission to design, conduct and authenticate the enumerated data and to update and redress grievances.

In the light of the fact that 70 lakh complaints were received the last time round, Mr. Kumar demanded that each household be given a printout of the enumerated data, which as of now would be displayed only at public places for verification.

Urging Mr. Ramesh to put on hold the census till the middle of March, Mr. Kumar said inclement weather had disrupted normal functioning that had forced schools to be closed and affected the SECC house count. He also reasoned that by March the paddy procurement too would have been completed.

Stressing that the budget allocation had been underestimated, Mr. Kumar sought additional allocation of Rs. 25.05 crore for enumeration work and Rs. 91 crore for having the entire process videographed and for establishing an IT platform to enforce accountability.

Bihar is among the last batch of States to undertake the census along with West Bengal, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, and Gujarat. Things got delayed in Odisha and Maharashtra due to local body elections.

Of course, Uttar Pradesh was expected to begin the task soon but now with the announcement of Assembly elections, the process will commence only after the completion of the poll process.

However, in the other poll-bound State of Punjab, the SECC count has covered 95 per cent of the area.

The exercise has been completed so far in Tripura, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Puducherry, and Chandigarh, while in most others it ranges from 60 per cent to 80 per cent of the area.

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