The government has recently published the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC 2011), based on Census 2011. These statistics depict the situation of poor in the country. It is not only that the condition of poor is bad; it has deteriorated too, if we make comparison with Census 2001.

It is notable that so far statistics have been published for rural areas only. In SECC 2011, seven types of deprivation have been identified – households with Kucha House; without an adult member in working age group; headed by a female member in absence of an adult male; with a handicapped member without their being an able adult; without a literate member above 25 years of age; scheduled castes/scheduled tribes and landless households engaged in manual labour.

It is found that at least 48.5 per cent households suffer from at least one type of deprivation. Landlessness was found to be the most important common factor. For instance, 59 per cent households with kucha houses were landless; amongst households with all illiterate members aged above 25, 55 per cent were landless; amongst Schedules Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) 54 per cent were landless. In other words we can say landless households were found to be most vulnerable. Further it is notable that out of 17.9 crore households 5.4 crore fall into the category of landless labour.

Census data shows that whereas in 2001, 45 per cent farmers in ST category were found working on their own land; in 2011, only 35 percent were found working on their land. In the SC category we find that in 2001, 20 per cent farmers were working on their own land; in 2011, this number declined to 15 per cent. In 2001, out of people working in agriculture, 35 per cent reported themselves to be landless agricultural labour; in 2011, this number increased to 44.4 per cent. Thus we can conclude that the poor lost land across all categories.

Ownership of land does not only provide employment and income to the household, it also acts as insurance against risks and enhances the prestige of the individual and the family. The landless are vulnerable and their employment is casual in nature. Those who own land and work on their land are called self-employed. Deprivation of land is depicted also from National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSOs) Report of 68th Round, which reveals that between 2004-05 and 2009-10, 2.5 crore people lost their self-employment and during the same period 2.2 crore people joined the army of casual labour. Therefore SECC 2011 data ratifies the findings of NSSO, 68th Round.

Generally, the economic condition of a household is indicated by the income of its members. With the highest-earning member of 13.36 crore families (that is 74.5 per cent of total rural households) earning less than Rs 5,000 a month, and of 17.2 per cent families between Rs 5,000 and 10,000, just 8.3 per cent of rural families had a highest-earning member bring home more than Rs 10,000 a month.

Although we witness an impact of technological changes on rural life also and we do find 68.4 per cent households with at least one mobile connection, a stronger indicator of well-being is ownership of a motorized vehicle. Hardly 20.7 per cent of households had at least a motorised two-wheeler. Much hyped Kisan Credit Card (KCC) was also not found with farming households generally and as per Census reports hardly 3.8 per cent of households were to have KCCs with a limit higher than Rs 50,000.

Governments at all levels claim that their economic policies centre on development of villages and the villagers. However, Census data reveals that 36 per cent of rural population is still illiterate, 91.7 per cent have highest income-earning member with less than Rs 10,000 a month and only 29.7 per cent households have irrigated land. Given population pressure and lack of infrastructure facilities in urban areas, rural folk do not have many options to improve their economic condition.

It is not easy to find solutions to rural deprivation and poverty. Nobody can deny ownership of land is the vehicle for empowerment of people. There were efforts, though half hearted, towards implementation of land reforms after independence. But now they too are things of the past. In the last 10 years, process of deprivation of land has accelerated, and suicides by lakhs of farmers indicate that farming is no longer a profitable venture, forcing farmers to leave agriculture and sell off their land.

Worst is the situation of marginal farmers, who constitute 67 per cent of the farming community, and whose average holding size has come down to 0.38 hectare. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that land is increasingly being used for non-agricultural purposes. No doubt, more land is being used for industries, infrastructure and urbanization; those with financial muscles are also cornering land, with the purpose of making profit.

Census data indicates that landlessness is mainly responsible for all kinds of deprivation. Making land available to the poor is like day dreaming today. Under these circumstances, government has to find ways and means to provide alternative employment and other types of economic empowerment. We need to promote rural industries, especially food processing, and cottage industries. Agriculture needs to be made remunerative and villages have to be brought into the main stream. We need to restrict the import of all those goods which can be produced at village level. We need to provide employment opportunities to the rural people especially rural women.

By providing self-employment to the landless, we can reduce their dependence on wage employment. These measures, if implemented successfully, can help the rural poor to educate their families and avail reasonable health facilities.

(The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)