Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Redemption in sight

Sangita Jha/New Delhi

The clash between Centre and states over BPL lists is set to end as the Centre mulls the BPL category should be confined only to food subsidy.
Centre and states have sparred long over Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists. Centre fixes number of BPL families in a state based on the criterion of the Planning Commission but states claim that they have more poor than what is recognized by the Centre. This slanging match appears to be headed for partial resolution soon. The overriding idea within the government is that the BPL category should be confined only to food subsidy.
In fact after decades of BPL centric policies, the Centre is preparing to look beyond. A window is soon likely to be created for Above Poverty Line (APL) families to enjoy benefits of the Centrally-sponsored schemes. The idea has apparently cropped within the corridors of power in the Centre after Gujarat and Punjab saturated their respective BPL lists under the Indira Awas Yojna (IAY).
Currently, the BPL list is linked with public distribution system (PDS), IAY, Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) and Old Age Pension. The Ministry of Rural Development is determined and claims to enjoy concurrence of the Planning Commission too that there is no overriding need for BPL lists to link the flagship scheme of IAY and Old Age Pension.
An internal assessment of the Ministry of Rural Development has brought forth the facts that Gujrat, Punjab and few districts in Uttar Pradesh have succeeded in exhausting their existing respective BPL lists for IAY. These states have apparently forced the Centre to find alternatives so that they could continue to implement IAY in some forms. "Gujarat, Punjab and few districts in UP have nearly exhausted their respective existing BPL lists under the IAY scheme. This has made ways for funds being utilized by these states under the scheme being diverted to other states," said a senior official.
The development means that the poor in Gujarat and Punjab have got pucca houses. This is a big achievement in itself for the IAY scheme. But the government is looking at alternatives to keep the scheme afloat in these states. "The Centre is mulling to allow people in these states to access benefits of IAY to replace their old houses with new ones. Such a move will allow performing states to continue the IAY to function in their states," said the official.
Under the IAY, people within the BPL category get Rs 45,000 to build their houses. While Centre supports with 75 per cent of the funds under the schemes, the states have to pitch in with the remaining 25 per cent. The Centre is also awaiting the outcome of the ongoing Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), which is expected to be completed this year, to get fresh list of BPL people in the states.
While Gujarat and Punjab have taken the lead in saturating demands under the IAY, the Centre is also looking forward to focus on Central and Eastern states, which are lagging behind. States like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odhisa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh are lagging the most in exhausting their respective BPL lists under IAY. This is apparently due to governments in such states not willing to aggressively take benefits to the people due to financial burden. States need to contribute 25 per cent of the funds for the scheme.
A working group of the Planning Commission has already sent a set of recommendations to the Ministry of Rural Development to restructure IAY. The question is whether the Centre should begun giving benefits of IAY to any person in the APL category. The answer to this question lies in recommendation of the Planning Commission, which says a cap of a maximum loan under the IAY could be specified, which could be about Rs 2 lakh. A well off family will not be able to build a house in mere Rs 2 lakh and only genuine families in the APL category would come forward to claim the benefits under the IAY.
The move is likely to come as relief to those who are outside the BPL category to meet growing demands of life in the time of price rise. The IAY is not the end of the story, as TSC, which is being restructured as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) envisages covering BPL and APL both with individual household latrine (IHHL). The Ministry of Rural Development, which is seeking a whopping Rs 36,000 crore commitment in the 12th five year plan, is hopeful of covering all the 2.50 lakh Gram Panchayats in the country for total sanitation campaign.
A United Nations report had stated that India would have to wait up to 2050 to become an open defection free nation. In an internal assessment report prepared by the Ministry, the picture is not far away from what the UN report suggests. Barring Kerala, which tops the list of states for having covered 980 Gram Panchayats in total sanitation campaign, leaving 10 more to be covered, other states are far off the mark to suggest a promising picture. In fact the most populous state Uttar Pradesh has covered only 1080 Gram Panchayats in sanitation campaign so far, leaving a tough job to cover another 51,621 Gram Panchayats in coming years. Maharashtra too has 18670 Gram Panchayats yet to be covered under the sanitation campa ign, while Madhya Pradesh has 21003 such Panchayats. Even developed states like Punjab (12647) and Gujarat (12167) have large number of Gram Panchayats yet to be covered under open defecation free campaign.
However, the Centre appears determined to erase the stink of open defecation with substantial hike in sanitation campaign.
In fact the government is also getting the celebrities to back its campaign to wash off the stink. The "Dirty Picture" star Vidya Balan and superstar Shah Rukh Khan have agreed to campaign for sanitation.
The big move for the sanitation has also come in the backdrop of a total allocation of Rs 3500 crore in the financial year 2012-13.
Ministry of Rural Development may not find much of a hassle in getting rid of the BPL limitation in the Old Age Pension. The idea is to make it universal with few criteria so that those getting pension by other means do not come under this ambit.
Thus we may soon see a step in the direction of making the flagship scheme universals. Even in the case of PDS, notwithstanding the National Food Security Bill, which is being deliberated upon by the Parliamentary standing committee and may have to wait a little longer before becoming a reality, the move is to allow the APL category families to take home at least 20 kg of foodgrains.
This is due to the fact that the government is faced with "problem of plenty" on the back of bumper procurement of foodgrains and lack of adequate means for their storage. This suggests that a limited universal PDS policy is also in the offing.
The ongoing Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), which is likely to be completed this year, will throw the true picture of the BPL numbers based on the exclusion and inclusion criteria. The government is looking forward to restructure some of the flagship schemes to specifically target the people suffering from the highest degree of deprivation independent of the BPL list.
Though we can still not write an obituary of the BPL, some steps are definitely being taken in this regard.

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