The past decade has seen the weakest sections of the society make rapid gains in their material wellbeing, acquiring assets such as cell phones, televisions, two-wheelers and bank accounts, though almost half the population of scheduled castes and tribes (SC and ST) continue to live by the light of the humble kerosene lamp, much more than the national number of 31 per cent.
The latest data of Census 2011, released recently, shows the asset poverty of Dalits and tribals has declined substantially. In fact, the decline in the number of Dalits and tribals without any assets is comparable to the numbers nationally.
In 2001 , 42.6 per cent of SC were without any of the 13 assets specified in the houselisting survey of the Census. In 2011, this had come down to 22.6 per cent. Nationally, the percentage of households without any assets came down to 17.8 per cent from 34.5 per cent.
This means nearly 80 per cent of Dalits had one of the specified assets, which includes a bank account, radio, television, bicycle, car, telephone, mobile, computer and internet connectivity. While half the Dalit population has a bank account, 40 per cent have TV sets and another 51 per cent have telephone connectivity. In 2001, just 25 per cent had bank accounts, and 21 per cent had a television, while a phone connection was available with just 3.5 per cent.
The decline in asset poverty of Dalits has been striking in the erstwhile Bimaru states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While 67.5 per cent of SC in Bihar had no assets in 2001, this has halved to 38.9 per cent now. In UP, where 26 per cent had no assets a decade earlier, the figure has come down to 15 per cent.
In Kerala, where the figure was 47 per cent a decade before, it is now 11 per cent. In Bengal, where 38 per cent had no assets earlier, it is 28.3 per cent.
Ownership of motorised vehicles has increased from 5.3 per cent to 11.9 per cent.
ST lot improves, too
In the three states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, as well as in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where the tribal population has been facing the brunt of the Naxal-state crossfire, asset poverty has declined.
About 37. 3 per cent of ST households all over the nation were found to be without any of the specified assets in the houselisting survey done as part of Census 2011. In Odisha, it was 37 per cent; in Chhattisgarh, 35 per cent; in Jharkhand, 27 per cent. In Maharashtra, which has a sizeable tribal population, households with no assets were 43 per cent.
However, 10 years before, ST households with no assets comprised 55 per cent of the community in Odisha, 49 per cent in Jharkhand, and 44 per cent in Chhattisgarh.
Today, 22 per cent of ST households own a television set, 33 per cent have landline phone connections or a cell phone, and 44 per cent have a bank account.
However, a majority of SC and ST still have no electricity. In Uttar Pradesh, 74 per cent of SC households depended on kerosene for light. In West Bengal, it is 56.4 per cent, in Odisha, 63 per cent. In Jharkhand, 60 per cent. Nationally, the dependence on kerosene as the sole source of light was only 31 per cent.
Census Commissioner C Chandramouli, who said the findings on asset poverty showed improvement in the lot of the SC and ST over 10 years, agreed that the lack of electricity and other basic amenities overshadow other gains. “That is the significance of the census. It tells you the gap between putting an electric post in a village and bringing electricity to a house,”' he said.
The fact that more than half the population of Dalits and Tribals rely on kerosene for light reveals the electric posts have not become electric connections, he said.