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Insights into Editorial: The map of rural deprivation

Insights into Editorial: The map of rural deprivation



With the Union Budget to be presented on February 1, it is vital for addressing rural distress through significantly higher allocations. The Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) informed us that ‘landlessness and dependence on manual casual labour for a livelihood are key deprivations facing rural families’, which make them far more vulnerable to impoverishment.

How SECC can help?

The decadal Census focuses on individuals while SECC has focussed on households. The data would be helpful for states and centre to target the neediest of the DBT and other schemes.

Since SECC has also included the homeless, there is a chance that a large number of hitherto excluded people are brought into the welfare schemes of the government.

Further, the caste data might be helpful on if the policy of reservation has really helped the most downtrodden of India.

The SECC makes case for a paradigm shift in the economic policy making and budget allocation both by central and union governments. At the core of it, the policy making needs to be decentralized and include the most downtrodden people.

Socio Economic and Caste Census

The Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC) was conducted for the 2011 Census of India in all states and Union territories.



The key rationale behind conducting a socio-economic and caste census was to assess the population that is actually below the poverty line (BPL).


The rural census, or SECC, mapped deprivation using seven indicators:

  • households with a kuchha house;
  • without an adult member in working age;
  • headed by a woman and without an adult male in working age;
  • with a disabled member and without able-bodied adult;
  • of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST);
  • without literate adults over 25 years;
  • The landless engaged in manual labour.

Key Findings of SECC

  1. Deprived households based on no of parameters

The more the number of parameters on which a household is deprived, the worse its extent of poverty is.

  • Nearly 30% have two deprivations, 13% have three. Only 0.01% suffer from all seven handicaps’.
  • While 48.5% of all rural households suffer from at least one deprivation indicator, “landless households engaged in manual labour” are more vulnerable.
  • Nearly 54 million households are in the landless-labourer category;
  • The intersection of any of the six other handicaps with “landless labour” makes it more acute.
  • The SECC also said that ‘59% of households with kuchha houses are landless labourers; similarly, 55% of those with no literate adult above 25 years and 54% each of SC/ST households and female-headed households without adult male members are also landless households.
  • At the same time, 47% households without an adult member of working age are landless labourers as are 45% of those with disabled members and no able-bodied adult members.
  1. Farmer distress

Along with landless families, small and marginal farmers are getting pauperised and more engaged in manual labour.

  • The overall farm size, which has been dropping since the early 1970s, and down from the 2.25 hectares (ha) average to a 1.25 ha average in 2010, will continue to become even smaller.
  • For these farmers, agricultural incomes are also likely to fall, hastening the exodus from agriculture.
  1. Marginal farmers looking for non-agricultural work

The numbers of landless and small and marginal farmers looking for non-agricultural work is an immediate and top priority.

  • Between 2004-5 and 2011-12, the number of cultivators in rural areas fell from 160 million to 141 million and the number of landless labour from 85 million to 69 million, both because they found non-agricultural work.
  1. Construction employment

Poorly educated cohort of landless labour in agriculture saw rise in construction work sharply.

  • From 1993-94 to 2004-05 and 2004-05 to 2011-12, the growth rate in the construction sector output accelerated to 7.92% and 11.5%, respectively.
  • Consequently, the share of the construction sector in rural output increased from 3.5% in 1970-71 to 10.5% in 2011-12.
  • Employment in the construction sector increased 13 times during the past four decades, which led to its share in rural employment rising from 1.4% in 1972-73 to 10.7% in 2011-12.
  • This sector absorbed 74% of the new jobs created in non-farm sectors in rural areas between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
  • Construction employment grew at a remarkable rate from 1999-2000 onwards. It grew to 51 million by 2011-12, which is a doubling in seven years or a tripling in 12 years from the turn of the millennium.
  • The sustained growth in investment in infrastructure, especially over the 11th Five Year Plan period (2007-12) of $100 billion per annum, two-thirds of which was public, and the remainder private may be a possible reason for the growth in construction employment.

These trends indicate that rural areas witnessed a construction boom after 2004-05. One reason for the much higher growth in the number of rural workers in construction over the manufacturing or services sectors is that there are fewer skill and educational requirements in construction.

Recent trends in construction jobs

Construction is the main activity absorbing poorly educated rural labour in the rural and urban areas. These workers are characterised, as noted above, by very low levels of education.

Construction jobs were growing so fast between 2004-5 and 2011-2 that the share of construction in total jobs for 15 to 29 year olds in the workforce doubled from 7.5% to 14%. Since then construction job growth has slowed, such that the share of construction in total youth employment fell to 13.3%.

Construction jobs are growing more slowly since 2011-12, as public investment has fallen. And with the rising non-performing assets of banks, private investment has fallen as well.

This is hurting landless labour and small and marginal farmers the most, since their households had benefited the most from the tightening of the labour market that had ensued in rural and urban areas because of rising construction jobs.

Other Measures needed for employment creation in different sectors

Rural demand in particular has risen, raising consumer demand for simple manufactured goods, especially in the unorganised manufacturing sector, raising employment in those sectors especially in rural areas.

  • Special packages are needed for labour-intensive industries to create jobs.
  • There should be cluster development to support job creation in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
  • The Ministry of Urban Development has a programme called AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) aimed at improving infrastructure for small towns. Infrastructure investment by the government creates many jobs.
  • Focus on women participation by skilling them.

Way Forward

The Union government has sustained rural development expenditure for the last two years, especially for rural roads, under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and rural housing under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban).

The Surface Transport Ministry has also attempted to sustain public investment in infrastructure to generate construction jobs for growing surplus rural labour.

The Budget for 2018-19 should sustain this public investment effort. The announcement that the government plans to borrow an additional ₹50,000 crore in this financial year, is welcome. Hopefully, the intention here is to raise public investment, especially for infrastructure investment.