September 2, 2018

Foreword by Bibek Debroy for PRICE's report: Indian Citizens' Basic Needs

Bibek Debroy

The Census has detailed information on household amenities and assets. Unfortunately, by their very nature, Censuses occur at infrequent intervals...

The Census has detailed information on household amenities and assets. Unfortunately, by their very nature, Censuses occur at infrequent intervals. The last Census is from 2011 and one will have to wait till 2021 to ascertain improvements registered since 2011. If policy has to be formulated and schemes recalibrated, say in 2018, this does not help. Since Censuses cannot be held every year, surveys become necessary. PRICE (People Research on India’s Consumer Economy) is an independent, not-for-profit ‘think tank’ and ‘facts tank’ that undertakes such surveys. Any survey is as good as the sampling frame and sample size and both are as good as the organization undertaking the survey. Because of the credibility established by PRICE through its ICE 3600 surveys in 2014 and 2016, EAC-PM requested PRICE to produce this report and EAC-PM is grateful that PRICE readily agreed. I take this opportunity to thank the PRICE team, Rajesh Shukla in particular, for agreeing to produce this progress report on the extent to which citizens’ basic needs are being satisfied.


Basic needs is a broad expression and needs to be pinned down. Census has a wide variety of information on household amenities and assets. Since the objective was to judge the efficacy of government schemes and not over-burden this report, EAC-PM requested PRICE to focus on four amenities - access to electricity, tap water, toilets and LPG. Since the objective was also to benchmark improvements over time, PRICE was requested to track the levels of access (measured in terms of coverage of households) at four points in time - 2001, 2011, 2014 and 2018. Of these, the first two are from the Census. Therefore, the 2014 and 2018 numbers were rendered comparable with the Census figures. Obvious ways to report these in terms of States or the rural/urban definition. However, there are considerable intra-State variations and villages/towns aren’t homogeneous either. Hence, PRICE was also requested to report the findings in terms of districts, with districts divided into most developed, those in the middle and least developed. The details are given in Appendix 2. For purposes of these district findings, the indicators are broader than the four mentioned earlier. Finally, instead of a report that is heavy with tables, PRICE was requested to present the results through maps and graphs, attractive visually.

The incremental changes are all positive. Electrification has increased repeatedly, particularly in rural India. These data are for households, not electrification of villages. There are States that do not perform well, relatively, but the increment has been positive across the board. This incremental improvement is marked in the case of the least developed districts. Understandably, the objective now shifts to quality of power, since 24/7 power is still not in reach. The access to tap water also shows improvement and the improvement from 2014 and 2018, is far more than what would have occurred on the basis of linear extrapolation alone. As with electricity, rural households have benefited the most. However, Bihar and Jharkhand still lag. In general, for tap water connections, least developed districts haven’t progressed as fast as they have for electricity connections. In such districts, the main source of drinking water continues to be hand pumps. Toilet coverage has also increased sharply in rural India. But this performance mirrors that of tap water connections. The least developed districts, or Jharkhand, don’t do that well. With electricity, the focus shifts to quality of electricity. With toilets, the focus shifts to toilets with running water. That may be a reason why households with toilets still defecate in the open. Despite improvements in rural India, LPG connections still exhibit a rural/urban divide.

Across those four heads, the other three heads do not record as much of progress as electricity does. The improvement in rural India, as a consequence of the rural sector focus, shows up. However, geographically, the concern areas are also evident, both in terms of States and the least developed districts.