Gujarat’s rural poverty, if a section of the senior economists are to be believed, has gone down considerably. Prof Bibek Debroy, an economist who is particularly close to the present Gujarat establishment, has pointed towards how, thanks to a very high growth rate in rural areas, poverty reduction has come about as a “trickle-down effect.” Quoting National Sample Survey (NSS) figures, he says, “The real story is in rural Gujarat, where there has been a very sharp drop in poverty, significantly more than all-India trends. In rural Gujarat, the benefits of growth have trickled down. In 2004-05, the BPL number for rural Gujarat was 9.2 million. That’s still a large number, but is significantly smaller than the 12.9 million in 2004-05.”
Even then, he is forced to admit, in his latest book, “Gujarat: Governance for Growth and Development”, that “people may also be poor because they are stuck in subsistence-level agriculture and have no other employment opportunities.” Despite this, he is not clear how poverty reduction has affected different sections of society. He believes, there may be a “danger of looking at the problem of poverty with a distorted lens” by bringing them under such categories as scheduled castes, schedules tribes, other backward classes and Muslims. In fact, he wonders, “Are they deprived because they belong to these collective categories? Or are they deprived because they lack access to the public or collective private goods we have mentioned?” He refuses to give an authentic answer.
Debroy may not be concerned on how poverty reduction has impacted different categories of rural population in Gujarat, but the source that he has sought to quote provides enough evidence to suggest that poverty reduction is yet to impact the deprived sections of the rural areas. The NSS survey which he quotes, in fact, suggests that the latest economic reforms, under the “neo-liberal” guise, have not in any way worked in favour of the disadvantaged sections of rural Gujarat. Asset ownership can be an important factor suggesting where things stand for which section.
The NSS data, put out by the Government of India, and quoted by Debroy, go to suggest that only 1.2 per cent Gujarat’s scheduled tribe (ST) households and 2.7 per cent of the state’s scheduled caste (SC) households own more than four hectares (ha) of land. This is in sharp contrast to a huge 17 per cent of higher castes owning more than four ha of land. The figures find their place in “Employment and Unemployment Situation among Social Groups in India”, published in September 2012.
Worse, great majority of ST households, 92.1 per cent, own either no land or less than one ha of land. Things are not very different for SC households – 89.4 per cent of the SC households own either no land or less than one ha of land. As one climbs up the social ladder, things start looking better – among the other backward class (OBC) households, those owning no land or less than one ha of land are 81.6 per cent, and the relative percentage further falls to 52.2 per cent for the upper caste households, characterized as “others” by the NSS.
In fact, NSS figure, which are based on primary survey among all Indian states during 2009-10, suggest that land owning pattern in Gujarat lately appears to have actually tilted in favour of the upper castes more than any other state. Thus, 17 per cent of the upper caste households owning four ha or more is higher than most states, except Madhya Pradesh (22.7 per cent). The all-India average of upper caste farmers owning more than four ha is just five per cent. What is even more interesting is that, as against 52.2 per cent of upper caste households, owning less one ha of land in Gujarat, the all-India average is a whopping 75.1 per cent.
The NSS report explains, while carrying out the survey, “the area of land possessed included land ‘owned’, ‘leased in’ and ‘land neither owned nor leased in’ (i.e. encroached) by the household but excluded land ‘leased out’.” However, as for the “piece of land under the possession of the household, if the household did not have the title of ownership and also did not have lease agreement for the use of land transacted, such land was considered.” In collecting information regarding land possessed, “the actual position as obtained on the date of survey was considered.”
The NSS survey suggests that poor or no land ownership with ST and SC households forces majority of the population of these two categories to wage labour. Thus, in Gujarat, 51.9 per cent of the state’s ST households and 66.4 per cent of SC households depend on wage labour, mainly in agriculture, for their survival. This is quite high compared to several other states, with the all-India average being 46.5 per cent for ST and 58.9 per cent for SC households.
Here, again, the percentage of households depending on rural labour for their livelihood goes down as one climbs up the social ladder – it is 36.4 per cent among Gujarat’s OBC households and a mere 18.1 per cent among the upper caste (those falling in the “others” category) households. The all-India trend suggests that, to quote from the report, “in rural India, proportion of households depending on self-employment was highest among the households in residual social group categorized as others – mainly upper castes — (57.4 per cent), followed by OBC households (51.3 per cent), ST (44 per cent) and SC (30.7 per cent).” On the other hand, it adds, the “proportion of rural labour households was much higher among ST (46.5 per cent) and SC (about 58.9 per cent) households than that among the OBC households (37.3 per cent) and ‘others’ category of households (26.2 per cent).”
The NSS figures throw further light on the ability of different caste groups to spend money in the rural areas. Recording it under the term monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE), which indicates the purchasing power of a person or a group of persons, the figures show a very interesting picture. As expected, the ST group has the lowest MPCE, Rs 879, but what is particularly disconcerting is that it is worse than majority of Indian states.
The ST households’ MPCE is higher in Andhra Pradesh (Rs 999), Assam (Rs 1,032), Himachal Pradesh (Rs 1,370), Haryana (Rs 1,401), Karnataka (Rs 901), Kerala (Rs 1,208), Maharashtra (Rs 961), Punjab (Rs 1.510), Rajasthan (Rs 984), Tamil Nadu (Rs 989), Uttarakhand (Rs 1,016), and J&K (Rs 1,223). The tribals of only backward states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are found to have better purchasing capacity compared to Gujarat.
As for SCs, Gujarat fares better than many states, with an MPCE of Rs 1,088. The states with a higher MPCE are – Andhra Pradesh Rs 1,155, Haryana Rs 1,165, J&K Rs 1,186, Kerala Rs 1,400, Himachal Pradesh Rs 1,350, Punjab Rs 1,271 and Uttarakhand Rs 1,064. Interesting though it may seem, OBCs’ MPCE is found to be worse than that of SCs, with Rs 1,038, which is lower than a large number of states, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand.
Those forming the “others” category (mainly upper castes) are found to have an MPCE of Rs 1,590 in Gujarat, which is much higher than not only ST, SC and OBC categories, but also higher than the national average of Rs 1,281, indeed a large number of states.
The latest NSS data corroborate what a recent research paper, published in “The Brown Journal of World Affairs”, titled “Has Anything Changed? Deprivation, Disparity, and Discrimination in Rural India” by Raghav Gaiha Ganesh, Thapa Katsushi, Imai Vani and S. Kulkarni, has to say, that “despite glowing accounts of how well the Indian economy has performed in recent years, India’s traditionally disadvantaged groups remain mired in acute poverty.”
Quoting a 2004-05 survey, it says, “Quota legislation in India entitles the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes to places in educational institutions, government employment, and legislatures.” While these quotas were hailed as a major breakthrough in affirmative action, the paper finds out how, “in addition to lack of endowments (e.g., land, education), the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes get lower returns to such endowments compared to non-scheduled households.”
— Rajiv Shah