Monday, September 24, 2012

Out of BPL scheme of things

Sangita Jha/New Delhi

Now, those do not belong to BPL category can also avail many welfare schemes. The govt's flagship rural employment scheme is also one of them   

For long Centre and states have been at the loggerheads over list of people under the below poverty line (BPL). While Centre accuses states of inflating their BPL lists, the latter also blame the former of underestimating the number of the poor. But there appears to be an opening of a window beyond the BPL confines for people to claim benefits under various social sector schemes.
Incidentally, the move to create a window for the non-BPL families to get benefits from the social sector schemes has come for different reason. Gujarat and Punjab along with few districts in Uttar Pradesh exhausted their existing BPL lists under the Indira Awas Yojna (IAY).
So, the Centre was faced with a situation where two major states had no on to cater to under the IAY. Therefore, a sub-plan of the Planning Commission recommended the Ministry of rural development to explore ways to open a window for non-BPL families under the IAY. This can address the issues of the genuine poor, which many experts claim number about 25 per cent across the country, who end up omitted under the BPL list due to various reasons to get the benefits of the welfare schemes. In fact to address the issue of the non-poor getting the benefits of the scheme, the Centre is proposing a cap on banking loan up to Rs 2 lakh only, so that the character of the IAY does not get affected.
Currently, the BPL list is relevant for few of the Central schemes like the Food subsidy, IAY, Old Age pension. The biggest flagship scheme in the form of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) is universal. There is no bar on people to access MNREGS to get employment.
Similarly, there is a movement being carried out by a section of the civil society to make the Old Age Pension (OAP) universal. The overriding idea is that better off people will not come to OAP to get Rs 1,000 a month. Even the idea, which the Centre is working on is to make the OAP universal and free it from the confines of the BPL list.
So, in the case of the IAY the Centre is working on create a space for 20 per cent of the benefits to go to the non-BPL families. "This will not only help the government to address the issue of the genuine people getting overlooked from the welfare schemes just for the reason that they are not included in the BPL list for various reasons but also revive the IAY overall. The fact is that most of the states have not been able to spend the Central allocation under IAY. The need of the hour is to revive the scheme and also give a boost to the rural housing, which in itself will set in motion a chain of rural economic activities," said a senior official of the ministry of rural development.
The states have also long been complaining that Rs 45,000 being given under the IAY has made the scheme unattractive, as no houses can be built with such a paltry sum of amount. Therefore, the Centre, while acceding to the demands of the state government, has almost doubled the allocation under the IAY. So, Centre hiked allocation of grants for construction of houses under the IAY from Rs 45,000 to Rs 75,000 per dwelling unit. For hilly and Naxal affected areas, the grants for constructing houses under the scheme will go up from Rs 48,500 crore to Rs 80,000.
Giving details, Union minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh said,: "The outlay for IAY in 2012-2013 was Rs 11000 crore and target was 32 lakh houses. Now, Rs 45000 has become Rs 75000. But for hilly areas and Naxal affected areas Rs 48500 will go upto Rs 80000." The IAY, which has been in operation since 1985-1986, would get the hiked allocation effective from April 1, 2013. Further, Mr Ramesh said, beneficiaries will get additional Rs 9000 for constructing toilets. Also, the government has launched a new scheme for providing rural house sites for landless people. In this, the government will provide Rs 10000 for a site of 100 to 250 sq meters, which would be over and above Rs 75000 for the IAY houses.
The minister was candid enough to admit that the IAY is the worst implemented programme of the government. This is not for any reason, as huge unspent balances are lying with various state governments, including Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.
As for the facts, Bihar had an unspent balance of almost Rs 2500 crore, Gujarat of Rs 825 crore, Karnataka  of 581 crore, West Bengal of Rs 550 crore, Odisha of Rs 427 crore, Assam of Rs 420 crore and UP of Rs 200 crore. Clearly, the scheme is not being run as it should have been.
In fact, many civil society activists are arguing the Centre to go beyond the confines of the BPL list and seek universalizing the flagship schemes. Even in the case of Food Security, the ministry of food and consumer affairs has moved a proposal to allow 33 per cent compulsory exclusion, so that the rest 63 per cent are entitled for subsidies food. This proposal seeks to do away with categories of Priority (BPL) households and General households. Clearly, there is an effort going on to make the schemes universal.
Incidentally, the move to make schemes become universal in some limited ways is taking place for another reason, that of the ongoing Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) being nowhere completion, with the Centre becoming skeptical of its completion. The SECC, which will generate data on the basis of which the states will be able to draw their respective BPL lists, has missed several deadlines and the ministry of rural development's report suggest that it would not be completed even this year.
So, there is clear rationale for the government to go beyond the BPL restricted approach. In fact, if officials are to be believed very soon only food subsidy would be linked with the BPL list, with the rest of the scheme becoming universal with conditions to ensure that the better off people do not take the benefits intended for the poor.

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