The provisional data of the Social Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 for rural India released by the government points to widespread deprivation in the rural sector despite the tall claims of the gains made in agriculture and fall in poverty levels in recent years. What is most shocking is that 8.69 crore rural household’s remains deprived which is about half the total rural households numbering 17.9 crore.
The seven main indicators used to estimate to estimate deprivation in this census are presence of single room households or those with kutcha walls and roof, absence of adult members in the 18-59 age group, female headed households with no male members in the 16-59 age group, households whose only adult member is differently enabled, SC/ST households, households with no literate adult above 25 years and landless households. And surprisingly almost half of the rural households fell into at least one of these categories.
What is even more worrying is the continued dependence of the rural population on physical labor. The survey points out that 9.16 crore rural households or 51% of the total are dependent on manual causal labour for income. The second main source of income in rural areas is cultivation which provides income to another 30% of the households.
Employment of rural households in modern occupations like government or private services or public sector employment is restricted to a bare 14% of the rural households. This excessive dependence of the rural households on manual labour and cultivation means that the country still has a long way to go before it is able to shift a sizable portion of the employment to modern sectors of industry and services.
And development seems to be stuck in a very nascent stage as the census numbers show that a bare 2.7% of the rural households have been able to use their entrepreneurial skills to run non agriculture enterprises registered with the government. However households in some states have a larger share of such enterprises. They include Delhi (19.5%), Himachal Pradesh (8.57%) and Punjab (5.59%). However, presence of such non-agricultural enterprises in rural households is minimal in state like Bihar (1.67%), West Bengal (1.60%) and Chhattisgarh (0.57%). The meagre size of the registered non agriculture sector in rural areas indicates the inability to tap into the non-agriculture potential of the rural sector.
The scarcity of modern enterprises has also had an impact on the earnings of the rural households. Numbers show that only 8.3% of the rural households had any person earning more than Rs 10,000 per month. While the share of such households was a substantial higher in more developed places like Delhi, Goa and Himachal Pradesh where 28.5%, 26.2% and 24.6% of the households had members earning more than Rs 10,000 a month such occurrence were meagre in states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as the share of such households were only 6.9%, 4.7% and 3.2% respectively.
The census numbers also points to the wide disparity in the gains made by the telecommunication industry in the rural sector. For the country as a whole almost a quarter of the rural households still have no access to either mobile phones or landlines. The states where the absence of phones were widespread in rural households included West Bengal (43.9%), Orissa (65.36%) and Chhattisgarh (70.8%). The states where the absence of phones in rural households were minimal included Goa (8.21%), Kerala (7.17%), and Delhi (3.94%).
The worst part is that despite the heavy dependence on agriculture the development of irrigation seems to be lagging far behind in most states. Only about 29.7% of the rural households had access to irrigated land in the country as a whole. The states where the share of households with non-irrigated land was the highest included Uttarkhand (45.5%), Karnataka (47%) and Himachal Pradesh (66.9%). However, share of rural households with non-irrigated land was minimal in Punjab (8.2%), West Bengal (18.1%) and Uttar Pradesh (19.6%).
The overall picture the census results presents is not very heartening. It points to substantial deprivation of rural households and the lack of new opportunities especially modern industry and services. What is worst is that the rural regions seems to be lacking even in building a basic infrastructure like irrigation which is so essential for agriculture, the mainstay of the region.
The only positive feature was the widespread presence of telecommunication facilities which offers substantial potential for improving governance, accelerating information flows and boosting long term growth.