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92% rural homes run on less than Rs 10,000 per month

New Delhi, July 3: Giving a more storied picture of rural India, the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) released on Friday says that a staggering 92% of rural households reported their maximum income below Rs 10,000 per month. Nearly three quarters of all rural household said that the income of the highest earning member was Rs 5,000 or less.

The SECC was conducted during 2011-12 with some states completing it in 2013, due to a lengthy process of seeking objections on collected data. It found that about 18 crore households lived in rural areas, including outgrowths of towns.

The SECC found that over 9 crore households were living by doing casual manual labour. That's more than half of all rural households. Cultivators were reported as numbering 5.39 crore households, making up about 30%. The much- heralded non-agricultural enterprises were providing livelihood to just 29 lakh households, a meagre 1.6% of the total.

There seems to be a significant difference with Census 2011 figures. The Census counts people, and according to it, in 2011 there were 9.2 crore cultivators and 8.1 crore agricultural labourers. This would translate to about 2 crore cultivator households and 1.7 crore agricultural labourer households.

However Abhijit Sen, former member of the Planning Commission who was involved in designing the survey, told TOI that this comparison should not be done because the SECC asked about incomes while the Census asked about work. "Also, everybody in a household doesn't work. So converting Census-based workers figures to households will not give a true picture," he added.

But on one issue, the SECC is perhaps better reflecting the lives of rural people. The Census gives figures for 'agricultural labourers' whereas the SECC gives figures for those working as casual manual labourers, which is not confined to agricultural labour alone. Due to pressure on land, fragmentation, and low returns, a vast army of people, both men and women, are turning to any kind of casual labour to earn a living. "In fact most people in rural areas do more than one kind of work, like working on construction sites, road building, loading and unloading etc., apart from seasonal work in the fields. Each household will have different kinds of casual workers. The SECC is reflecting this reality," Sen explained.

In a significant marker of vulnerability of rural families, the SECC reports that only about 10% of rural households have regular salaried jobs. Of these, about two thirds (6%) are in government or public sector jobs while a minuscule third, some 6.4 lakh in all, work in regular private sector jobs. And, not surprisingly, less than 5% of the rural households pay income-tax or professional tax. This is, of course, mainly because agricultural income is not taxed and with over 92% households earning less than Rs.10,000 most don't qualify.

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