Last week, an expert panel headed by former finance secretary Sumit Bose, suggested a change in the way India selects the beneficiaries of the central and state governments' various social welfare measures. Instead of the common practice of identifying the target groups on the basis of their below poverty line (BPL) status, the panel advocated the use of the Social Economic Caste Census (SECC) data prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development for this purpose.
The suggestion should be welcomed.
SECC data provides a better chance to get the real beneficiary included in the social welfare scheme. That is because, unlike a BPL list prepared from the data provided by the National Sample Statistical Organisation (NSSO), the SECC data ranks rural households on different parameters. There are multiple deprivation criteria and the chances of better inclusion are higher here. Leading researchers and social workers tracking government's various welfare schemes are also unanimous in their opinion that SECC data has worked better when it comes to identification of real beneficiaries. They point out that in states like Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar, where SECC data is already being used to identify the beneficiaries for some of the national social assistance programmes, the results are encouraging. The coverage is better than it used to be while using BPL based survey, they add.
In fact, the multi-layered SECC data also allows identifying beneficiaries for specific programmes.
The major drawback of NSSO based BPL liked beneficiary identification and SECC data based enrolment, though, remains the same. The lists generated, in both cases, are not based on dynamic data.
The current SECC data came out in 2011. In a country where a drop in farm income or a medical emergency can push hundreds into penury, the government needs to be on its toes to improve, and keep improving, its own assessment mechanisms to identify the real social sector beneficiaries.
It is known that the rural development ministry has taken a positive view of the recommendations. It should be seen as an improvement over the conventional data and put in use where ever possible. To base all future assessments for social welfare schemes on SECC at one go will not be a good idea.