Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011

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Context:

  • The Bihar chief minister has asked the central government to reconsider its refusal to hold a caste-based census.
  • However, the Government of India has decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste-wise populations other than SCs and STs in Census.

Relevance:

  • GS I- Population and Associated Issues.
Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 
  • SECC was conducted by MoRD, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, The Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner and the State Governments.
  • SECC supplies data to differentiate the socio-economic status of households based on housing, educational status, landholding, differently-abled, occupation, possession of assets, SC/ST households, incomes etc.
  • Govt has decided to use the SECC data in all its programmes besides using for housing purpose, education and skill development, MGNREGA, National Food Security Act etc.
  • Sumit Bose Committee in its report favoured using SECC-2011 data for the rural development schemes.

What is the difference between Census 2011 and Socio-Economic Census 2011?

Census

Regular population census 2011

Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011
  • Apex organization
  • Census Commissioner (Home Ministry)
  • Rural Development ministry + Planning Commission.
  • Time
  • Conducted every 10 years.
  • The last census was done in 2011 and data collection is finished
  • SECC was conducted for the first time since 1931.

 

  • Act
  • carried under the census of India act 1948
  • Not carried under that Act.
  • Purpose
  • Provide general demographic information: age, gender, religion, occupation, migration etc.
  • SECC is meant to canvass every Indian family, both in rural and urban India, and ask about their:
  • Economic status, so as to allow Central and State authorities to come up with a range of indicators of deprivation, permutations, and combinations of which could be used by each authority to define a poor or deprived person.
  • It is also meant to ask every person their specific caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups were economically worst off and which were better off.
  • Note: The data of SECC does not and cannot superimpose itself fully on the census data. While there is a high degree of compatibility in the two sets of data the findings could be different because the duration of the census and that of SECC is different.

Features of SECC

  • SECC 2011 is the first paperless census in India.
  • Household data was taken from the National Population Register along with the temporary identification number.
  • At each stage, there was an opportunity for transparency and grievance redressal.
  • SECC methodology defines poverty through deprivation, instead of consumption.
  • SECC takes caste into account for the first time since 1931. It was also meant, for the first time since 1931, to ask every person their specific caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups were economically worst off and which were better off.
Objectives of SECC 2011

The SECC, 2011 has 3 major objectives:

  • Households to be ranked based on their socioeconomic status. State Governments can then prepare a list of families living below the poverty line.
  • To obtain authentic information about the caste-wise population of the country.
  • To obtain authentic information regarding the socio-economic condition, and education status of various castes and sections of the population.
Methodologies used in SECC 2011
  • NC Saxena committee (for rural areas)- Committee suggested the design of a new BPL census and recommended a three-fold classification of households.
  • Excluded– It identified the parameters to automatically exclude certain households. Some parameters are a pucca house with four or more rooms, a car, washing machine, fridge and two-wheeler.
  • Automatically included – Those facing certain residential, social or occupational vulnerabilities, such as homeless or living in the informal housing; households with no able-bodied persons or adults or groups like beggars, rag pickers or sanitation workers.
  • Others –The remaining households will be ranked using 7 Deprivation Indicators. (Mentioned under Deprivation indicators)
  • SR Hashim committee (for urban areas)- The Planning Commission appointed the Hashim Committee Expert Group to identify the methodology to conduct the SECC in urban areas.
  • Information collected at the level of the individual and household, include Occupation, Education, Disability, Religion, SC/ST Status, Name of Caste/Tribe, Employment, Income and source of income, Assets, Housing, Consumer Durables and Non-Durables, Land.

14 parameters of Automatic Exclusion:

  • motorized 2/3/4 wheeler/fishing boat.
  • Mechanized 3-4 wheeler agricultural equipment.
  • Kisan credit card with a credit limit of over Rs. 50,000/-.
  • Household member government employee.
  • Households with non-agricultural enterprises registered with the government.
  • Any member of the household earning more than Rs. 10,000 per month.
  • Paying income tax.
  • Paying professional tax.
  • 3 or more rooms with pucca walls and roof.
  • owns a refrigerator.
  • Owns landline phone.
  • Owns more than 2.5 acres of irrigated land with 1 irrigation equipment.
  • 5 acres or more of irrigated land for two or more crop season.
  • Owning at least 7.5 acres of land or more with at least one irrigation equipment.

  • 5 parameters of Automatic inclusion:
    • Households without shelter.
    • Destitute, living on alms.
    • Manual scavenger families.
    • Primitive tribal groups.
    • Legally released bonded labour.

  • Households based on 7 markers of deprivation:
    • Households with Kutchha house
    • No adult member of working age
    • A household headed by female and no working-age male member
    • Household with handicapped members and no able-bodied adult
    • Household with no literate over 25 years
    • Landless households engaged in manual labour SC/ST households.

 

Important Data

  • There are 24.49 crores (243.9 million) households in India, of which 17.97 (179.7 million) crore live in villages. Of these, 10.74 crore households are considered as deprived.

  • 5.37 crore (29.97%) households in rural areas are “landless deriving a major part of their income from manual labour”.
  • As many as 2.37 crore (13.25%) families in villages live in houses of one room with 'kachcha' (impermanent) walls and roofs.
  • 21.53%, or 3.86 crores, families living in villages belong to SC/ST categories.
  • 56% of India's rural households lack agricultural land.

  • 36% of 884 million people in rural India are non-literate. This is higher than the 32% recorded by the 2011 Census of India.
  • Of the 64% literate rural Indians, more than a fifth have not completed primary school.
  • 60% of the 17.91 crore rural households are deprived or poor.
  • 35% of urban Indian households qualify as poor.
  • 74.5% (13.34 crore) of rural households survive on a monthly income of Rs 5,000 for their highest earner.
  • 5.4% of rural India has completed high school.
  • 3.4% of rural households have a family member who is a graduate.
  • 4.6% of all rural households in India pay income tax.
  • 14% of rural households are employed either with the government or the private sector.
  • 1,80,657 households are engaged in manual scavenging for a livelihood. Maharashtra, with 63,713, tops the list of the largest number of manual scavenger households, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and Karnataka.
  • Over 48% of the Indian rural population is female.
  • 44.72 crore Indians are non-literate, more than a third of its 121.08 crore population.
  • Transgender people comprise 0.1 per cent of India's rural population. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, West Bengal, Gujarat, Odisha and Mizoram have the highest proportions of transgender people.
  • Kerala tops in the number of people with mental ailments in India.
  • 1% of rural households own a landline phone without a mobile phone, while 68.35% of rural households have mobile phones as their only phone(s)
    Many communities are demanding inclusion in one category or the other.

 

Issues With SECC
  • Apart from themes specific to enumerating caste, there are other issues that the Census and the SECC in particular face.
  • The first relates to the time lag between each Census, and the second to the delay in the release of data. The first of these is inherent in the way the Census exercises are planned. 
  • The second, however, also has important repercussions to understanding social change since data may remain unreleased or released only in parts.
  • Nearly a decade after the SECC for instance, a sizeable amount of data remains unreleased. Delay in the release of data needs to be reduced.

Operational Issues

  • While the Census authorities present documents on methodology as part of a policy of transparency, there needs to be a closer and continuous engagement between functionaries of the Census and SECC, along with academics and other stakeholders concerned, since the Census and the SECC are projects of governance as well as of academic interest.
  • Before another SECC is conducted, a stocktaking of the previous exercise, of what has been learnt from it, and what changes are necessary, beyond changing exclusionary criteria for beneficiaries of state support, are crucial to enable the Census to facilitate effective policy work and academic reflection.
  • Concerns about methodology, relevance, rigour, dissemination, transparency and privacy need to be taken seriously if this exercise is to do what it was set up to do.

 

Caste Based Census
  • Caste census means the inclusion of caste-wise tabulation of India’s population in the Census exercise held one in ten years.
  • From 1951 to 2011, every census in India has published the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, comprising the Dalits and the Adivasis, along with the gamut of data including religions, languages, socio-economic status, etc.
  • It, however, has never counted OBC’s, the lower and intermediate castes which roughly constitute about 52% of the country’s population.
  • All castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are marked in the general category.

Why is there a demand for an OBC census?

  • The demand to include caste in the census is long-pending. It arises from the fact that there is no documented data on the OBC population in India.
  • The demand usually comes up every time in the run-up to the census exercise.
  • The argument for the demand is that since the census already documents huge amounts of data including religions, languages, socio-economic status and Dalits and Adivasis, why not count OBCs too.
  • Also because OBCs, that count for a little over half of the country’s population, are the targets of many welfare schemes and other affirmative action programmes such as reservations in government jobs and education.

Has India ever counted its OBC population?

  • Not since indpendence. When the British conducted the Census, it included data on castes till 1931. In 1941, the caste count was excluded reportedly because of administrative and financial issues with England involved in World War II.
  • Thus the count of OBCs is, therefore, available for 1931, when their share of the population was found to be about 52%.
The debate around full-scale Caste Census
  • Since Independence, aggregated Census data on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on certain parameters such as education have been collected.
  • There is a growing demand for a full-scale caste census to capture contemporary Indian society and to understand and remedy inequalities.
  • While others believe that this large administrative exercise of capturing caste and its complexities is not only difficult but also socially untenable.
  • Exponents of caste-based census argue that it is about the legitimate constitutional right of a large section of people to get recognised as a social category. Therefore, it is an issue that requires discussion and a socio-political movement.
  • All these questions are being debated without adequate and reliable data, leading to conflicting and often misleading claims. Supporters of a caste census cite these reasons, while critics fear it will only widen social rifts.

Arguments against Caste Census

  • There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities, or that caste may be context-specific, and thus difficult to measure.
  • It would be disingenuous to ignore the emotive element of caste and the political and social repercussions of a caste census.
  • Inequitable distribution of power and wealth would endanger the stability of any society.
  • It is feared that the caste census could further widen the social gaps prevalent in society. As India tries to weaken the notion of caste, a caste census will only strengthen it.
  • Many believe, including the sections of Bahujans that if we want to annihilate caste then we will have to gradually stop identifying ourselves with our caste-based identity. It may lead to a demand for more reservations.
  • The other concern is whether an institution such as a caste can even be captured completely by the Census.

Political implications:

  • The 1931 census was conducted to identify the ways through which colonial power could strengthen control.
  • The data was used to create a separate vote-bank in the 1980s by leaders, who emerged from Jai Prakash Narayan’s anti-corruption movement and led to the creation of Janata Dal.
  • Something similar is being attempted now through the sub-categorisation of the OBC quota. Political parties know that the new caste census can help them to create a new vote-bank of socially and economically deprived sections and may lead to the perpetuation of “politicisation of the caste”.
  • Nitish Kumar has been able to carve such a vote-bank for his party in Bihar. Many believe that in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has done well politically as it was able to bring the upper castes and socially deprived OBCs together.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, a similar experiment has worked in the Vindhya and Mahakoshal regions of the state, turning them into a BJP bastion.

Arguments in Favour of Caste Census

  • Caste has an important position in Indian society- While census data has been captured for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, religions and linguistic profiles, there has been no profiling of all castes in India since 1931.
  • As the democratisation of society deepens, questions are being raised regarding the status of Dalits, tribal communities and a large section of the population that is characterised in the Constitution as Socially and Educationally Backward Classes.
  • Political representation of these communities has increased and their participation in government jobs has risen.
  • It is assumed that particular groups within each category have benefited disproportionately from political and job reservations, and there are demands for sub-quotas.
  • Some communities are feeling short-changed by the affirmative action steps of the state.
  • With the role of the Government as a big employer diminishing, there is a demand for affirmative action in the private sector.
  • The courts in India have often emphatically said that it is important to have adequate data with regard to the reservation.
  • Caste is not only a source of disadvantage; it is also a very important source of privilege and advantage in our society. There is an issue of differential delivery of welfare programmes among OBCs, those who are already well off can access more benefits.
  • A major argument is that if the SC-ST census is done, then why should other groups be left out.
Advantages of a full-scale Caste Census
  • The household data can be utilised by planners of programmes at State, district, Block, Gram Panchayat and village levels.
  • BPL data tells us how many are poor and SECC tells us who are those poor. It is more concerned with ensuring the right person gets the benefit. The results of the SECC are used for various other developmental uses in the country.
  • It is expected that the database provided by the Caste census would be used for decentralized governance, planning and development. There will be checks and balances at several levels starting from the enumeration stage to public scrutiny at the Gram Sabha level.
  • A caste census would, on the one hand, bring forward anthropological facts, and on the other, provide the basis for framing sound development policies required for social justice.
  • It can play an important role in helping people to organize politically. When people realize that there is strength in numbers, that their collective identity is being recognized. On the basis of this social movements can be created. 
  • It will help in designing development programmes, government policies and schemes.
  • It will show which ethnic groups are under-developed and still need an uplift.
  • The government will get to know the actual economic, social and educational status of different ethnic groups in the country.
  • Since then, caste has assumed an increasingly important position in our lives, and our reliance on inadequate data has also increased.
  • Rids away caste rigidities- counting of caste doesn’t necessarily perpetuate caste or the caste system. Myths of caste elitisms can be debunked through a caste census.
Way forward
  • Linking and syncing aggregated Census data to other large datasets such as the National Sample Surveys or the National Family Health Surveys that cover issues that the Census exercises do not, such as maternal health, would be significant for a more comprehensive analysis.
  • Census operations across the world are going through significant changes, employing methods that are precise, faster, and cost-effective, involving coordination between different data sources.
  • Care must however be taken to ensure that digital alternatives and linking of data sources involving Census operations are inclusive and non-discriminatory, especially given the sensitive nature of the data being collected.
  • A mature society should have accurate information on the well-being of its people, and a caste census can be a big step towards that goal. But it should also feel equally comfortable to set aside the data to create a universal safety net and equal opportunity for those whose economic status might not reflect the barriers they face.
  • A renewed vision for a just and united India, where all divides are reduced must guide the discussion on a caste census.
  • The government must look beyond caste and work towards the upliftment of marginalised, illiterate and poor sections of the population. Emphasis must be on economic division, education, health, etc. rather than the caste division.



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