Telangana’s household survey, by collecting first-hand information, throws up many opportunities for administrators, policymakers and researchers in social sciences

Modern states seldom act arbitrarily. Scientifically derived data is imperative for the efficient functioning of the modern welfare state. Although the role of the state in India has been declining in the neoliberal context, its responsibility in taking care of sections of the society who are seen as weak, vulnerable and marginalised has increased significantly. Thus, we witness a number of welfare measures being initiated by several States in the country. However, a fairly common and disturbing phenomenon is the large-scale irregularities in the execution of welfare schemes. The state cannot afford to remain a bystander when it comes to misuse of government machinery. Past experience has shown that governments that made consistent efforts towards improving governance were duly rewarded by the electorate.
In the newly formed State of Telangana, the baggage of poor governance inherited by it at the time of being carved out of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh (A.P.)was sought to be addressed by the Comprehensive Household Survey (CHS). At the time of assuming office in June, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao had expressed hope that the outcome of the survey would help the government plan better for welfare.
Unfortunately, the move has been criticised by sections of the media questioning its intention. They levelled allegations that the CHS would profile the population based on their place of origin, stoking fears among a section of the population in Hyderabad. The allegations levelled had such repercussions that even Cabinet Ministers in A.P. took up the matter with the Centre. However, undeterred by the negative publicity, the people of Telangana took the matter in their stride.
Given the increasing importance of the state in the lives of the poor, and pilferation of state funds meant for the poor, the importance of data on the socio-economic status of the population has become essential to planning of welfare measures. On August 19, Telangana conducted a one-day survey of its entire population. The decision of the Telangana government is historic, for no other State in the recent past has undertaken such a massive survey exercise. Lakhs of government employees geared up to the demand within short notice and participated wholeheartedly in the process of enumeration. The success of the survey is reflected in the unprecedented participation reported to be about 98 per cent. The masses greeted the process with enthusiasm, and both the rural and the urban poor and the middle class identified with it. The questionnaire used in the survey is designed in a scientific way to cover all sections of the population and key socio-economic indicators. It consists of 104 items divided into nine sections to record complete details of the people, including data on land holding, occupation, access to education and health services, the status of disabled, etc. The data aims to provide the State with the much-needed figures to make a proper assessment of the magnitude of financial commitment necessary for social welfare schemes.
Charting a new course
One of the several areas that the survey tried to address is the controversy over the State’s fee reimbursement scheme — Financial Assistance for Students of Telangana — which had assumed political overtones immediately after the decision to introduce it was announced by the newly formed State. Owing to lapses in implementation, the fee reimbursement scheme had become a golden goose for education entrepreneurs. It is said a number of engineering colleges have mushroomed over the last four to five years just to benefit from this scheme and/or were set up with the funds received from it. At one stage the scheme deviated from its goal and became a money spinner for a few. The recourse to fraudulent means by educational institutions had reached such a point that some engineering colleges had started admitting students by way of offering cash incentives for taking admission into their colleges. Another problem was that the State had to identify student beneficiaries with the help of admission lists provided by the colleges rather than independently identify students in need of financial assistance. Aimed at providing data on needy students, the CHS tried to identify students, their present level of education, and their economic background. This data would help the State in not only supporting the students who took admissions into colleges across Telangana but also into national institutions like the IITs and NITs.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the newly formed State is taking care of its poor senior citizens. Having announced a hike in the monthly pension amount for those above 65 years of age to Rs.1,000, the Telangana government needed to ascertain who genuinely deserved it. In the midst of reports that the existing name rolls consisting of beneficiaries included people as young as 45 years of age, it was high time that a verification exercise was undertaken.
One of the promises made by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi was the distribution of three acres of cultivable land to every Dalit family. In order to fulfil this promise, the State wanted to ascertain information regarding landholding patterns and the number of eligible families. Telangana had previously witnessed two rounds of land reforms: one round of efforts were made when P.V. Narasimha Rao was Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister (1971-73); the second round of efforts were made in order to curb the Naxal movement. These two phases of land reforms resulted in greater redistribution of land in Telangana. In contrast, it is said 20 per cent of the families in a typical coastal Andhra village hold more than 80 per cent of the land. Data on land holding not only helps the State in land distribution but also in learning of the number of small and marginal farmers. This data may be used by the department of agriculture to plan for input subsidies, credit requirements, crop insurance policies, etc. Data on the sources of irrigation collected in the survey would help the State in assessing the usage of electricity for farm irrigation, and the extent of command area, etc.
Another important feature of the survey is its attempt to ascertain the status of artisan castes and people engaged in these occupations. The economic restructuring in the post-liberalisation era rendered many artisan communities and their crafts irrelevant. However, a significant number of persons belonging to these communities are still engaged in their traditional occupations. In this context, the survey collected important data on the details of people’s occupations, particularly caste occupations, pursued by individuals in every household. It is believed that such data would help the State in evolving appropriate welfare measures to alleviate economic problems and help strengthen the communities by upgrading skills, acquiring new techniques of production and if possible, link the communities with appropriate markets so that they can earn remunerative prices for their produce.
The survey laid emphasis on the health status of household members. This data would help the State in knowing the types of ailments, the extent of their spread and in augmenting State- funded health centres in rural areas.
Also, data on persons with disabilities would make it possible for the State to reach out to them as they have been the worst sufferers in the present day market conditions. Details on the usage of cooking gas, income tax assessment, property tax and drinking water connection, etc. collected as part of the survey would help the State in urban and rural drinking water supply, widen the property tax net, rationalise subsidies and plan for better civic amenities in the urban and rural contexts.
The survey instruments employed by the Census of India and the National Sample Survey Organisation often fail to capture the local specificities embedded in the culture of the region surveyed. This is because the emphasis is on evolving a common standard applicable across the country. Short of such limitations, the instrument used in the survey by the Telangana government captures the reality to a great extent.
The survey exercise throws up many opportunities for administrators, policymakers and researchers in social sciences since it provides first-hand data which is relevant and appropriate to the peculiarities of Telangana. The data generated by the survey can serve as a benchmark for assessing the progress in subsequent years by various government departments.
(Chakrapani Ghanta is Dean, Faculty of Social Science, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University and Raghava Reddy Chandri is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad.)