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Bit Of An Exaggeration

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A quote in the book establishes the ideological bias of author K.S. Chalam. He says: "A need is felt to analyse the impact of the economic reforms on the socially neglected and disadvantaged groups in India." And there is a presumption that had it not been for reforms, scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) would have been in a far better position. Chalam seems to ignore the fact that poverty is not only about income or expenditure poverty; there are other dimensions to it. However, sticking to expenditure poverty, there are two broad-based data sources — the commonly used National Sample Survey (NSS) and the less commonly used NCAER data. NSS (1983-84, '87-88, '93-94, 1999-2000) do not establish that SCs and STs were in a particularly enviable position.
That said, Chalam makes valid points about inefficient public expenditure of centrally sponsored schemes (CSS) directed towards SCs and STs. But these much-maligned reforms are also about improving this efficiency. NSS 2004-05 will make it impossible to prove that the status of many SCs has not improved, even if one moves on to non-expenditure poverty indicators. One should read the work of Chandra Bhan Prasad and D. Shyam Babu or stuff put together by Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Or NCAER data put together in the book Caste In A New Mould. Yes, ST areas are still relatively bypassed and marginalised in access to legal systems, physical and social infrastructure. But do we over-simplify and arrive at wrong policy conclusions when we ascribe everything to collective categories like caste? Caste is at best only one determinant and not necessarily the most important one. Access to education, skills, credit and networks are instances, not perfectly correlated with caste.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-11-2011)

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