The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Monday urged the Government to reconsider the present design of Below Poverty Line (BPL) census expressing apprehension that the current format would result in “undercounting” of the poor.

Referring to the Independence Day speech of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the CPI (M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat found it “objectionable” that Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh called the BPL census design “non-negotiable.''

“I find it extremely objectionable that even though it is so obviously flawed, the government has a closed mind on this. Does not the language of non-negotiability on issues of deep concern to the poor, smack of the arrogance of power,” Ms. Karat asked in her letter to Dr. Singh.

Highlighting the flaws, she said the BPL census design and questionnaire would result in an undercounting of the poor. She said that as a policy, targeting system in government programmes eliminates the concept of universal rights and entitlements. The present system was based on “highly questionable” poverty estimates that translate into caps/quotas for officially recognised poor who may be eligible for Government subsidies.

“It is deeply regrettable that the design itself seems geared to underestimate the extent of poverty so as to be able to fit in the numbers of poor into the arbitrarily decided caps/quotas referred to above. While the automatic exclusion categories in this design are too broad, the automatic inclusion categories are too narrow,” the letter said.

For example, a disabled person or a widow is not automatically included. This is so despite evidence to show they belong to the most vulnerable sections.

A 2003 Supreme Court order had included the disabled and widows as sections which should be considered eligible for the Antodaya category.

Similarly, Scheduled Tribes are going to be particularly disadvantaged not only because they are not automatically included but their occupations are also ignored in the occupation based deprivation indicators.

Most STs are self-employed as marginal peasants on small unproductive land holdings or as forest-produce gatherers, fisherpersons etc. But this does not form any part of the questionnaire.

If the automatic inclusion category can be widened to include disabled, widows, SC/ST sections like manual workers, domestic workers, fisherpersons, the injustice of excluding vast sections of the poor could be avoided.