The Ministry of Rural Development released data from the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) on the standard of living of rural households in India on Friday. The numbers come from the SECC which was conducted in 2011 and is meant to provide data on various socio-economic indicators, and most importantly, on caste.
Disappointingly, the socio-economic indicators of various caste groups have not yet been released – what we do have is socio-economic data for rural households by state, and for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households among them. By identifying various parameters of deprivation, the numbers are now open for the centre and for state governments to decide how they want to define their poor.
Here are 8 big reality checks from the new numbers.
1. Fewer than five per cent of rural households pay income tax. Even among rich states, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this number hovers around the five per cent mark.
2. This is not surprising given a staggering fact – in nearly 75 per cent off rural households, the main earning family member makes less than Rs 5,000 per month (or Rs 60,000 annually). In just eight per cent of households does the main earning member make more than Rs 10,000 per month.
The rural east of the country is significantly worse off, while the rural north is actually the most comfortably off financially.
3. Just 20 per cent of rural households own a vehicle, and only 11 per cent own a refrigerator, but 72 per cent own a phone of some sort.
4. These extremely low income numbers follow from the nature of employment that most of rural India is engaged in. The vast majority – over 90% - of rural India, does not have salaried jobs. Over half of all rural households derive their household income mainly from casual manual labour. Another 30 per cent derive it from cultivation.
5. The numbers also point to the subsistence level of farming that rural India currently practises.
Over half of rural India owns no land at all. Among households who do own land, 40 per cent is not irrigated. Just four per cent own any sort of mechanised agricultural equipment, and just 10 per cent own any irrigation equipment. Fewer than four per cent have an agricultural credit card that entitles them to at least Rs 50,000 per month.
6. Working in anything other than agriculture will be a tough ask, given the level of education – fewer than 10 per cent make it to higher secondary or above and just 3.41 per cent of households have a family member who is at least a graduate.
7. There is a substantial difference in the standard of living of India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and “others”. Fewer than five per cent of SC and ST households have a main earner who makes more than Rs 10,000 per month – for “others”, there are twice as many households.
8. When the north of India is split into multiple zones – north, east, central – its rural areas are more prosperous than even the south. India’s east and central regions (including Uttar Pradesh) are the ones that do worst on the seven indicators identified by the SECC as measures of deprivation. Among the indicators, landlessness and a reliance on manual labour contributes the greatest to deprivation. In all, half of rural India is deprived on at least one of these indicators; what indicators to use to calculate poverty, though, is going to be a political choice.