‘Historically disadvantaged groups most excluded from access to public goods’
Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims continue to be the worst-hit communities in terms of exclusion from access to public goods, according to the 2016 Indian Exclusion Report (IXR) released by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) in New Delhi on Wednesday.
“The 2016 Report reviews exclusion with respect to four public goods: pensions for the elderly, digital access, agricultural land, and legal justice for undertrials. It also profiles four highly vulnerable groups in terms of their access to these goods,” said CES director Harsh Mander.
“Despite the diverse public goods reviewed, the dominant finding of this report, like the last one, is that the groups most severely and consistently excluded from provisioning tend to the same historically disadvantaged groups: Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, and persons with disabilities and age-related vulnerabilities,” said a note on the IXR prepared by the CES.
Meagre land holdings
On the provision of agricultural land as a public good, the IXR found that the pattern of land distribution “broadly reflects the socio-economic hierarchy — large landowners invariably belong to the upper castes, cultivators to the middle castes, and agricultural workers are largely Dalits and Adivasis.”
The rate of landlessness was highest among Dalits, at 57.3%. Among Muslims, it was 52.6%, and 56.8% of women-headed households were landless. Around 40% of all those displaced by “development activity” were Adivasis.
Where Dalits, Muslims and women owned land, the holdings were meagre in size, with only 2.08% of Dalit households owning more than two hectares of land. Also, the quality of land owned by Dalits was very poor, with 58% of it having no irrigation facility.
On the subject of digital exclusion, the IXR observed that “almost 1.063 billion Indians were offline even though India ranks among the top five nations in terms of the total number of Internet users”. Poverty and geographic location were the two major barriers to digital access, with urban locations enjoying better Internet penetration rates.
“Government initiatives to improve IT access have been riddled with implementation problems like poor infrastructure, a lack of adequate institutional frameworks, low literacy in the targeted areas, and poor cooperation from government officials,” according to the IXR.
“The Digital India programme aimed to cover 1,00,200 panchayats under Phase I by March 2014; but in April 2016, only 48,199 panchayats were covered, and only 6,727 panchayats had Internet access,” said the CES note, warning that “in the new thrust towards a cashless economy, digital exclusion can often also result in financial exclusion.”
The IXR also noted with disapproval India’s refusal to be a signatory to a non-binding UN Human Rights Council resolution to protect human rights on the Internet and said that it signalled a reluctance to incorporate a rights-based approach to access.