SECC Data on Bihar Reveals Neglect and Apathy of Successive Governments

The data for Socio-economic and Caste Census of 2011 (SECC) was released in part last month. This once again reflects the grim reality of increasing deprivation and rich-poor divide. The findings of this census are being questioned by many in view of apparent anomalies/discrepancies from earlier surveys and censuses; and the methodology adopted is also being disputed. We are aware of the earlier methods like assessing per capita calorie consumption or consumption expenditure as well as their limitations, this time multiple criteria were used with three distinct categories of 14 exclusion criteria, 5 inclusion criteria and 7 deprivation indicators. Too many criteria added further complications in the overall assessment. As a result, owning a two wheeler (which is not quite uncommon) or having a Kisan Credit Card or living in a moderately pakka house may eventually exclude a poor family from availing a scheme meant for BPL. Again, this census proved to be more ‘excluding’ than ‘inclusive’ in its final findings.

Even with this flawed criteria, 8.69 crore households have been found as deprived or poor by this census which makes 35.62% of total households in country, and 48.50% of total rural households. (The data for 6.48 crore urban households, which is 26.55% of total, is yet to be released.) Earlier ‘projected’ estimates of poverty varied from 27.5% and 37% in 2004-05 to the latest figure in 2013 of 21.9%. This was highly underestimated, even then BPL benefits could not be provided to all of those families while deletions from BPL list continue even today on various flimsy grounds without any transparency.

Against the 48.5% ‘deprived’ households, the same SECC data also tells us of 74.49% households with Rs. 5000 per month income of highest earning member and 91.67% with income of highest earning member of up to Rs. 10,000 per month only. This is evident that a large number of poor people are still kept out of the ambit of BPL.

In this essay, we will examine the implications of the SECC data on Bihar.

The picture painted by the SECC data calls the bluff of the tall claims of ‘development’ and ‘social justice’ made by successive Governments of Bihar.


According to the SECC data, Bihar ranks third in illiteracy with 43.92% illiterate households after Madhya Pradesh (47.58) and Rajasthan (44.23%). This is way behind the national average of 35.74%. The combined percentage of illiterates and semi-literates, i.e., from zero to primary level education is 78.70%.

More worrying fact is existing regional disparities within Bihar itself which is evident in all socio-economic indicators including education. Educationally, the most backward district is Saharsa (59.43%) while Buxar shows only 26.22% illiterates. Districts with above 50% illiteracy are Saharsa, Madhepura, Kishanganj, Purnia, Katihar, Darbhanga, Sitamrhi, Araria, Sheohar, Supaul and Khagaria. Adjoining districts of Pashchim Champaran, Lakhisarai, Gaya, Samastipur, Sheikhpura, Nawada, Begusarai, Madhubani, Nalanda, Jehanabad, Banka, Purba Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Jamui, Patna, Munger and Vaishali have illiteracy in the range of 40-50%. Districts with less than 40% illiteracy are Bhagalpur, Arwal, Gopalganj, Saran, Siwan, Kaimur-Bhabhua, Bhojpur, Aurangabad, Rohtas and Buxar. This divides Bihar into three distinct geographical zones with varying socio-economic development levels.


Three fourths of Bihar’s households dwell in either one or two rooms only, and 58% households are deprived of pakka houses. The census does not ask if households have basic amenities, like power, water, sanitation and latrines, in houses, which could have made for a better assessment of prevailing poverty. Here again, most deprived districts are in North Bihar - Darbhanga, Begusarai, Samastipur, Khagaria, Kishanganj and Madhepura where more than 90 percent households have to live in 1 or 2 rooms only.


Out of 1.78 crore households in Bihar land is available to 61.35 lakh families (34.42%) and 65.57% families are landless. The SECC data gives us an estimate of per capita availability of land at about 17 acres per household, and considering actual availability to 34 percent families this figure roughly comes out to be 50 acres average holding among land owning families.

The census is done with a limited objective of counting households as per a certain given criteria, and details of distribution pattern have not been published. With 34 percent land owning households, only 2.5% possess motorised agricultural equipments and 2.37% families have Kisan Credit cards. This perhaps indicates the presence of subsistence farming to a greater extent for a larger number of households. Moreover, this does not give a comprehensive and true picture of land relations as well as socioeconomic status as phenomenon of tenancy, share cropping and absentee landlordism are not considered at all.

Income status

82 percent of households in Kishanganj and Araria districts have earning members with less than Rs. 5000 per month income, and nine most backward districts which falls in the North Bihar region have more than 95% population where household incomes are less than Rs. 10,000 per month. In Kishanganj 97.61% households, or one can say almost every one barring a few, are below 10,000 income slab.

Central Trade Unions have been demanding for a long time to raise minimum wage rates at Rs. 15,000 pm. The SECC criterion must also be reviewed in this context and households up to 10,000 income slabs should mandatorily be considered under poverty line. A total of 93.25% households in Bihar have earnings of less than 10,000 per month.

Nature of Employment Sixty to eighty percent of households in various districts are mainly dependent on manual casual labour which comes to be a total of 70.87% at state level. This is far above than all India average of 51.16% reflecting a much higher extent of deprivation. Only 18.24% families’ main dependence is on cultivation in contrast to an all India figure of 30.11%. The migration on a huge scale of toiling masses from Bihar to other states has not been considered in SECC which would have given a clearer and better understanding on deprivation and social exclusion in Bihar.

Dalits and Mahadalits

Bihar’s rulers have vied amongst each other to claim benefits to mahadalits and dalits. The income and other deprivation levels expose the continued apathy towards mahadalits and dalits. The situation is further aggravated by the renewed and strengthening nexus of feudal, upper caste regressive forces with the ruling establishment led by the likes of Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav who never bothered to reverse the policy regime in the direction of greater democratisation and inclusion. Now the BJP is trying to further strengthen those same reactionary anti-dalit and anti-poor forces under its hold.

The SECC data shows that more than three-fourths of landless Scheduled Caste households survive on casual labour, while 83.58% families earn less than Rs. 5000 and 13.57% earn between Rs 5000 to 10000 in a month. The plight of ST households in also on similar lines though they constitute comparatively far less numbers in Bihar.

This Socio-economic and Caste Census was done to serve a limited purpose of identifying poor households as per the given criteria under exclusion, inclusion and deprivation categories. This was a census not like the regular census exercises and its data is meant to be displayed publicly at each Gram Sabha. The lists thus published will display ‘eligible’ households to whom benefits of various government schemes will be provided. The most deprived household will be the first preferred one.

The SECC data itself reveals a far greater degree of deprivation than is admitted by its own criteria for calculating deprived households. Moreover, it remains to be seen how many of even the households they admit to be deprived, will actually benefit from various schemes.

The most important is the fact that such intense levels of poverty in Bihar as well as throughout the country are due to the policy regime of liberalization that creates and increases deprivation and inequality. What is needed is a struggle to reverse this policy regime itself.

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