Rural folk, a deprived lot

The government has to find ways to provide alternative sources of employment and economic empower-ment to the rural people.

The figures revealed by the recently published Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC 2011), based on Census 2011, depict the situation of the poor in the country. It is not only that condition of the poor is bad, it has deteriorated too, if we compare with the earlier census (2001).

In the SECC 2011, seven types of deprivations were identified: households with kuccha house; without an adult member in working age group; headed by a female member in the absence of an adult male; with a physically-challenged member without their being an able adult; without a literate member above 25 years of age; scheduled castes/ scheduled tribes and landless households engaged in manual labour.

It is found that at least 48.5 per cent households suffer from at least one type of deprivation while landlessness was found to be the most important common factor. For instance, 59 per cent households with kuccha houses were landless; amongst households with all illiterate members above 25 years of age, 55 per cent were landless; amongst Schedule Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (SC/ ST), 54 per cent were landless. In other words, we can say landless households were found to be the most vulnerable. Further, it is notable that out of 17.9 crore households, 5.4 crore fall into the category of landless labour.

The census data shows that whereas in 2001, 45 per cent farmers in ST category were found working on their own land, in 2011, only 35 per cent were found working on their land. Regarding the SC category, we find that in 2001, 20 per cent farmers were working on their own land; in 2011, this number declined to 15 per cent. In 2001, out of people working in agriculture, 35 per cent reported themselves to be landless agricultural labour; in 2011, this number increased to 44.4 per cent. Thus, we can conclude that the poor lost land across all categories.

Ownership of land does not only provide employment and income to the household, it also acts as insurance against risks and enhances the prestige of the individual and the family. The landless is vulnerable and their employment is also casual in nature. Deprivation of land is depicted also from National Sample Survey Office (NSSOs) Report of 68th Round, which reveals that between 2004-05 and 2009-10, 2.5 crore people lost their self-employment and during the same period, 2.2 crore people joined the army of casual labour. Therefore, SECC 2011 data ratifies the findings of NSSO, 68th Round.

Generally, the economic condition of a household is indicated by the income of its members. With 13.36 crore families (that is 74.5 per cent of total rural households) having highest earning member getting less than Rs 5,000 monthly, and 17.2 per cent families with highest income earning member between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000, the census has implied that households having highest earning members with income more than Rs 10,000, were hardly 8.3 per cent of total rural households.

Although we witness an impact of technological changes on rural life and we do find 68.4 per cent households with at least one mobile connection, a stronger indicator of wellbeing is ownership of a motorised vehicle. We find that hardly 20.7 per cent of households had at least a motorised two wheeler. The much-hyped Kisan Credit Card (KCC) was also not found with the farming households generally and as per the census reports, hardly 3.8 per cent of households were found carrying KCC with a limit of more than Rs 50,000.

Governments at all levels claim that their economic policies centre on development of villages and the villagers. However, census data reveals that 36 per cent of rural population is still illiterate, 91.7 per cent have highest income earning member with less than Rs 10,000 a month and only 29.7 per cent households have irrigated land. Given the population pressure and lack of infrastructure facilities in urban areas, rural population does not have many options to improve their economic condition.

No easy solution
We must admit that it is not easy to find solution to rural deprivation and poverty. Nobody can deny ownership of land is the vehicle for empowerment of the people. In the last 10 years, the process of deprivation of land has accentuated (as per Census 2011), and suicides by lakhs of farmers indicate the vulnerable farming community, as farming is no longer a profitable venture, and farmers are leaving agriculture and selling off their land.

Worst is the situation of marginal farmers which constitute 67 per cent of the farming community whose average size of the holding has come down to 0.38 hectare. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that land is increasingly being used for non-agricultural purposes. No doubt, more land is being used for industries, infrastructure and urbanisation; those with financial muscles are also cornering land, with the purpose of making profit.

The census data indicates that landlessness is mainly responsible for all kinds of deprivations. Making land available to the poor is like day dreaming today. Under these circumstances, the government has to find ways and means to provide alternative sources of employment and other types of economic empowerment. We need to promote rural industries, especially food processing, artisans and others cottage industries.

Agriculture needs to be made remunerative and villages have to be brought to the mainstream. We need to restrict the import of all those goods, which can be produced at village level. We need to provide employment opportunities to the rural people, especially women. By providing self-employment to the landless, we can reduce their dependence on wage employment. These measures, if implemented successfully, can help the rural poor educate their families and avail reasonable health facilities.
(The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)

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