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23rd January 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses


  1. A new framework around caste and the census
  2.  Imbalances in India’s cereal economy need more than a short-term fix

Editorial: A new framework around caste and the census


  • Enumerating, describing and understanding the population of a society and what people have access to, and what they are excluded from, is important not only for social scientists but also for policy practitioners and the government. In this regard, the Census of India, one of the largest exercises of its kind, enumerates and collects demographic and socio-economic information on the Indian population.


  • GS Paper 1: Population

Mains Questions:

  1. There needs to be closer engagement between all stakeholders of the Census and the Socio-Economic and Caste Census. 15 Marks
  2. A caste-wise survey helps gather quantifiable data, but the aim must be a casteless society. Discuss the statement in context of reservation in India. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article

  • About the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011.
  • Why Socio Economic and Caste Census is needed?
  • What are the objectives of the SECC?
  • Key Findings of the SECC
  • Criticism related to the SECC
  • Way Forward

About the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011:

The Ministry of Rural Development commenced the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in June 2011 through a comprehensive door to door enumeration across the country. This is the first time such a comprehensive exercise has been carried out for both rural and urban India. It has generated information on a large number of social and economic indicators relating to households across the country.

  • SECC 2011 is also first paperless census in India conducted on hand-held electronic devices by the government in 640 districts. The rural development ministry has taken a decision to use the SECC data in all its programmers such as MGNREGA, National Food Security Act etc.
  • SECC 2011 data will also be used to identify beneficiary and expand the direct benefit transfer scheme as part of its plans to build upon the JAM (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana-Aadhaar Mobile number portability) trinity.

Why Socio Economic and Caste Census is needed?

  • The current definition of poverty — which was derived by identifying a basket of essential goods and services and marking the point in India’s income distribution where that basket could be purchased by an individual — was missing too much.
  • For one, the numbers seemed absurdly low — set at Rs.816 per person per month in rural areas and Rs. 1,000 in urban areas by the Planning Commission by updating the Tendulkar methodology, the numbers amounted to a daily expenditure of around Rs.30, which caused public indignation. A new committee was formed which drew a new line, but the Rangarajan methodology too wound up at a poverty line not very different from the Tendulkar line.
  • Thus, a broader and more dynamic definition of poverty seemed important. · Also, while the general census was about individuals, the SECC was based on households and this gives a more accurate picture of the economic status of families.

 What are the objectives of the SECC

  •  To enable households to be ranked based on their Socio- Economic status, so that State Governments can then prepare a list of families living below the poverty line.
  • To make available authentic information that will enable caste-wise population enumeration of the country, and education status of various castes and sections of the population.
  • The regular Population Census is carried out under Census Act, 1948. According to this Act, Government must keep individual’s personal information confidential. Besides aim of regular Population Census is to provide overview, it is not concerned with any particular individual / household. Thus, personal data given in Population Census is confidential.
  • On the contrary all the personal information given in the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) is open for use by Government departments to grant and/ or restrict benefits to households. This required the right of verification of socio economic profile.

What are the Key Findings of the SECC?

Data addresses multi-dimensionality of poverty, and provides opportunity for a convergent, evidence based planning with Gram Panchayat, as a unit. It is an opportunity for evidence based selection, prioritisation and targeting of beneficiaries in different programs. Some of the findings of the SECC are as under:

  • There are a total number of 24.39 crore households in India, of which 17.91 crore live in villages. Of these, 10.69 crore households are considered as deprived. The economic status of a household was computed through seven indicators of deprivation covering aspects of landlessness, housing, source of income, disability etc.
  • 49% of the households can be considered poor in the sense of facing some deprivation. These households show signs of poverty even though depth of poverty may be not enough to categorise them as poor. These deprivations range from lack housing facility and education, to absence of any male earning member, to households depending mainly on manual labour etc. This finding points to the need to have a comprehensive social security structure.
  • These extremely low income numbers follow from the nature of employment that most of rural India is engaged in. The vast majority – over 90% – of rural India, does not have salaried jobs.
  • Working in anything other than agriculture will be a tough ask, given the level of education – fewer than 10 per cent make it to higher secondary or above and just 3.41 per cent of households have a family member who is at least a graduate.
  • Only 30% of rural households depend on cultivation as their main source of income. Whereas, 51.14% derive sustenance from manual casual labour (MCL). Fragmentation of landholdings has made it difficult for even farmers to support themselves, let alone those dependent on MCL. Therefore, getting people out of farms will spur mechanisation and consolidation of land holdings, leading to increased agricultural productivity in the long run.
  • In nearly 75 per cent of the rural households, the main earning family member makes less than Rs 5,000 per month (or Rs 60,000 annually). In just eight per cent of households does the main earning member makes more than Rs 10,000 per month.
  • 56.25% of rural households hold no agricultural land. The numbers also point to the subsistence level of farming that rural India currently practices. Therefore, creation of gainful non-farm employment should receive top priority in policy making.

Criticism of the SECC

  • SECC 2011 data was criticized by few experts as it was not reliable. The methodology is not full proof and there are many errors and omissions in the draft data.
  • Experts have criticised conduction of the census by the ministry of rural development (MRD) rather than by the Registrar General, Census, or by the NSS. Both organisations have been doing survey/census work for the last sixty-five years; MRD is rather late in this game, and is prone to political compulsions rather than act as an objective, quasi-academic unit.
  • There is criticism that caste related data is deliberately withheld, similar to the religious data of 2011 Census of India, ostensibly because the findings could be politically controversial.

Way Forward

  • The government has signalled that this data would be the basis for targeted allocation of entitlements under various poverty alleviation programs. This was meant to better identify beneficiaries of welfare schemes.
  • Thus, the SECC helps to move to principle of ‘program specific indicators for program specific entitlements’. Recognizing many dimensions of poverty and tackling them with different programs, in multiple fields like health, education, sanitation, mid-day meal can be universal; others like affordable housing, disability can be targeted.

Editorial: Imbalances in India’s cereal economy need more than a short-term fix


  • The need of the hour is to expand distribution under the PDS. Failing that, the country is heading towards another round of wasteful stock accumulation even as poor people struggle to feed their families.


  • GS Paper 3:  PDS (objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping, issues of buffer stocks & food security)

Mains Questions:

  1. Food security bill is expected to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in India. Critically discuss various apprehensions in its effective implementation along with the concerns it has generated in WTO. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Food Security?
  • Food Security vis-a-vis Constitution of India
  • National Food Security Act, 2013
  • Key Features of the Act
  • Food security and national security.
  • Way Forward.

What is Food Security?

In FAO report on ‘The State of Food Insecurity, 2001’ , food security is defined as a “situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

  • World Summit on Food Security stated that the “four pillars of food security” are availability, access, utilization, and stability i.e. food security over time.
  • To accomplish all the above criteria, requires not only an adequate supply of food but also enough purchasing power capacity with the individual or household to demand adequate level of food.

Food Security vis-a-vis Constitution of India

  • In the Indian context, the underpinnings for food security of the people can be found in the Constitution, though there is no explicit provision on right to food.
  • The fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission to include right to live with human dignity, which includes the right to food and other basic necessities.
  • Under Directive Principles of State Policy, it is provided under Article 47 that that the State shall regard raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.

National Food Security Act, 2013

  • It marks a paradigm shift in approach to food security – from a welfare to rights based approach. The Act legally entitles up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System.
  • About 67% of the total population therefore is covered under the Act to receive highly subsidized food grains. The Act seeks to provide food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matter connected therewith or incidental to it. The Act brings the Right to Food within the framework of legally mandated entitlements.

Key Features of the Act

  • It entitles 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population (67% of the population i.e. 80 crore people) for subsidized grain under TPDS.
  • The act provides ‘individual entitlement’ and each individual will be provided 5 kg of wheat, rice or coarse cereals a month at the rate of Rs 3, Rs 2, and Re 1 per kg respectively. These Prices may be changed by the Central Government from time to time, but after 3 years of the act only and not above the MSP.
  • 2.43 crore people under AAY will get 35 kg food grain per household per month, like earlier.
  • There is a special focus on nutritional support to pregnant women and lactating mothers and children up to 14 years of age by entitling them to nutritious meals. Pregnant women will also be entitled to receive cash maternity benefit of Rs. 6,000 in order to partly compensate her for the wage loss during the period of pregnancy and also to supplement nutrition.
  • The act contains an important provision for women empowerment by giving status of head Student Notes: of the household to the eldest woman of the household, for the purpose of issuing of ration cards.
  • State Governments have been given responsibilities to identify the households within 365 days of the passage of the act.
  • For children below 6 months, exclusive breast feeding is to be promoted. For children between 6 month to 6 years, age-appropriate free meals will be provided by the Anganwadis Centers. For children between 6-14 years of age (unto Class VIII) will be given Mid-Day Meal at public schools.
  • Every pregnant and lactating mother will get free meal at local anganwadis (till 6 months of delivery) and a maternity benefit of Rs 6000 in instalments.
  • A State Food Commission will be set with a chairperson, five members and 1 secretary (including at least 2 women, and 1 member each from the SC and ST community) 10. If concerned state government is not able to provide the food grain, then equivalent food security allowance has to be provided.

Food security and national security:

The National Food Security Act primarily focuses on providing food security via expansion of the PDS. However, the extent to which this would lead to nutritional security depends on the manner in which households respond to the availability of cheap cereals.

Effect of Cereal Subsidies:

Households keep o balancing their needs like ensuring adequate calorific consumption, enhancing the quality of their diets, improving living conditions and investing in the health and education of household members. Cereal subsidies are thought to have two kinds of effects:

  • Income Effect: For those households that value dietary diversity, being able to buy cheap cereals will free up money to purchase other foods such as milk, fruits, nuts, and perhaps eggs and meat.
  • Substitution Effect: For households that have other dominating consumption needs, money saved by purchasing subsidized cereals may be devoted to those needs and diverted from food expenditure (substitution effect).

Way Forward:

Way forward Steps such as PM Fasal Bima Yojana, changes in land leasing laws (which allow formal recognition of non-landowning cultivators) are the moves in good direction and could offer solution. Thus, both direct transfer of benefits and Universal Crop Insurance, if applied creatively and equitably, have the potential to alleviate the current concerns and leakages.

March 2024