Urban surge at the cost of rural folks

Even as Tamil Nadu forges ahead in urbanisation, income levels of rural households present a bleak picture,

July 04, 2015 03:09 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:05 pm IST - CHENNAI:

Even as Tamil Nadu forges ahead in urbanisation, income levels of rural households present a bleak picture, reveals the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011.

 The provisional data released on Friday reiterate the fact that the State is the frontrunner as far as urbanisation is concerned. Of the total households, 42.47 per cent are urban - the highest among larger States in the country ahead of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

 While this is a welcome trend for several reasons, the statistics paint a dampening picture with regards to income levels of rural households.

According to the data, 78.08 per cent of rural housesholds’ highest earners have an income of less than Rs 5000. While 15.49 per cent of highest earners draw an income between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000, this figure drops to 8.63 per cent for those who earn more than Rs. 10,000.

 The figure is even worse for households headed by women, with 85.58 per cent having highest earners drawing less than Rs 5,000.

 Among the Scheduled Caste (SC) population in the State, 85.10 per cent of Dalit households have highest earning member bringing in less than Rs 5,000 a month.

 Also, 55.80 per cent of total households are landless and derive income from manual and casual labour. This increases to 73.33 per cent among Scheduled Castes. But this is not a Tamil Nadu-specific trend. Most large States present similar figures.

 How do we make sense of a situation where a State continues to urbanise, but encounters low-earning capacity in rural households, especially when more than half the population still lives in villages?

Earning opportunities

 According to M. Vijayabaskar, assistant professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, the data represent only the income of the highest earner, which means the household as a whole could have a higher earning. “But this does not mean the income is substantial. When you look at the price index and the necessity for spending on various components, such as health and education, the income is certainly very low,” he says. It also represents the fact that earning opportunities in rural areas are harder to find.

 “It shows that a large number of rural population is marginalised and they may not get regular employment,” says Dr. R. Srinivasan of University of Madras. “In rural areas, unless the villagers have some asset like education or land then they will have to depend on manual labour,” he points out.

However, in Tamil Nadu, poverty is addressed through an array of social security schemes, including a relatively efficient Public Distribution System (PDS). “This is the reason why we have seen considerable decrease in rural poverty, as ascertained by the Tendulkar committee model, in Tamil Nadu. Still, low disposable income is a significant issue,” says Mr. Vijayabaskar.

Citing his own experience, he says small farm holdings, which constitute over 90 per cent of all land holdings in Tamil Nadu, play an important role in slow rise in remuneration among cultivators, especially at a time when farm inputs cost more.

Commenting on the urbanisation data, economist Venkatesh Athreya says the trend may necessarily not mean a better living standard. “We see a high number of town panchayats in Tamil Nadu. In some instances, these are merely administrative definitions. On the ground, they may not be much better off than a village panchayat,” he says.

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