India: No room for development

By T.K. Rajalkshmi

, by Frontline

The housing and houselisting census data do not paint a rosy picture of India in terms of basic amenities for its households.

The data on household amenities and assets, released recently by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, are a stark reminder of the immense disparities that exist in India in terms of basic entitlements such as electricity, sanitation facilities, proper drainage, and clean drinking and bathing water. The houselisting and housing census was carried out between April and September 2010.

The report lists India as a country with 0.6 million villages; 7,933 towns; 4,635 ethnic groups with 80,000 segments, synonyms and titles; 6,661 mother tongues; 18 languages; and 2,875 religious and other persuasions. The survey data underscore what economists and others have been saying repeatedly – that India lives in its villages and, that too, not under very good conditions. The survey found out that much of India lived in one-room households with mud flooring, used bicycles for transport, burnt firewood for fuel, did not have a separate kitchen (31 per cent), had no access to safe drainage, used open latrines, and did not have access to a computer. A little less than 50 per cent of the population did not have access to water within its premises. Though the data record qualitative and quantitative improvement in some of the indices since the last census, the figures are far from satisfactory. The improvement, if any, has been only marginal. For instance, there was a decline in the proportion of households using grass, thatch, mud, bamboo or wood for roofing, but 46.5 per cent of households still used mud as flooring material. The choice of flooring definitely not driven by ecological concerns but by an inability to afford any other material. The proportion of households using floor tiles and mosaic stood at 10.8 per cent.

As many as 39.4 per cent of households in rural India and 32.1 per cent in urban India had only one room; only 2.8 per cent of households on an average had six rooms or more. One-room households appeared to be the norm, while households with two rooms (31.7 per cent) formed the second largest chunk. In other words, most of India lived in households with either one room or two rooms.

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