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The Big Picture: Bare Necessities Index

  • 16 Feb 2021
  • 9 min read

Why in News?

  • Despite the widespread efforts and improvements, inequalities in access to bare necessities like drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and housing conditions continue to exist between urban and rural India.

Key Points

  • The BNI is built on the idea of Thalinomics in the Economic Survey for 2019-20, through which it had sought to examine the access to food in the country.
  • The Economic Survey (2020-21) has underlined the need to focus on reducing variations in the access to bare necessities across states, between rural and urban areas, and between income groups.
  • With us moving to a completely digital era, the bare necessities are no more confined to “Roti, Kapda aur Makan” but goes beyond it.
  • Access to technology; smartphones, internet and connectivity with the whole nation are the newly added bare necessities to go hand in hand with the world.


  • In the 2019-20 Economic Survey, Thalinomics was introduced to make an attempt to relate economics to the common person using something that an individual encounters every day - a plate of food i.e a Thali.
  • Affordability of Thalis vis-à-vis a day’s pay of a worker has improved over time, indicating improved welfare of the common person.

Bare Necessities Index

  • The Bare Necessities Index (BNI) is based on the large annual household survey data.
    • It is constructed using suitable indicators and methodology at district level for all/targeted districts.
  • The BNI summarises 26 indicators on five dimensions - water, sanitation, housing, micro-environment, and other facilities and has been created for all states for 2012 and 2018 using NSO data.
  • The index classifies areas on three levels of access- high, medium, low to bare necessities.
  • Utility of data:
    • To check inter state disparities or a progress of a particular state over time.
    • To check the efficacy of policies/ schemes implemented to meet these bare necessities.
  • Improvement in bare necessities:
    • Bare necessities have improved across all States in the country in 2018 as compared to 2012.
    • Increase in equity is noteworthy as the rich can access private options for public goods.

Steps taken to Provide the Bare Necessities

Issues Associated

Internet Facility as a Bare Necessity

  • During the pandemic, besides the bare necessities, the biggest need was found to be the internet and smartphones, whether it was about working from home, or attending online classes.
    • Most people were able to afford smartphones and the internet, but those who couldn’t afford them, were found to be in a very deprived situation.
  • Internet facilities and access to smartphones is a necessity in the present that has not been taken into account while preparing the list of bare necessities.
    • To catch up with everyone else in this electronic world, the people who are devoid of these necessities need more uplift than just food and housing.
  • Lack of equal internet access is not only a huge inequality in the education sector, but also in the health sector.
    • With the increasing use of telemedicines, e-skilling, e-governance and e-education, not being provided with the internet facility, a major part of India will continue to be a laggard in this electronic world.
  • Kerala which has an enormous Public Distribution System, still there children can be found facing several difficulties due to lack of internet access.
    • Food, oil and unemployment allowance are provided to them by the government, but the internet is not included in the list.

Multiplicity of Schemes

  • There are about 250-300 poverty alleviation schemes launched by central and state government at the district level which are almost similar in nature.
    • This multiplicity of schemes is very infructuous.
  • This brings inefficiency within the effective functioning of schemes and opens windows for corruption.

Way Forward

  • Framing the policies keeping in mind the future needs and possibilities: The schemes shall be futuristic keeping in mind that the idea of bare necessities have changed over the years and will definitely change even more for the upcoming generation.
  • Digital education aspect: One of the easiest ways is to target the younger, school-going generation and take into account what they need so that they get equal access to education.
  • Discouraging multiplicity of schemes: The high number of infructuous schemes shall be integrated.
    • Quality should be raised instead of quantity, a few but well organised and effective schemes must be preferred over too many schemes creating chaos and confusions.
    • Convergence of these schemes is needed, so that the schemes which are not necessary should be done away with.
  • Keeping the traditional as well as new needs into consideration: It is not an ‘either this-or that’ situation, India shall focus on the traditional bare needs along with including smartphones and internet facilities as a basic need to bridge a digital divide in this technological era.
    • The newly introduced “digital aspect” of bare needs must be addressed but the traditional needs must not be compromised, they must be taken into account at a priority basis.
  • The need of proper health facilities: The most important traditional bare need is public health which adheres to sewage and sanitation.
    • A medical condition called environmental enteropathy is caused by poor health and sanitation conditions which infects people’s ability to absorb nutrition.
    • Environmental enteropathy (also called tropical enteropathy) is a subclinical condition caused by constant fecal-oral contamination and resulting in blunting of intestinal villi and intestinal inflammation.
    • Besides, every block hospital should be upgraded, upgradation of the hospitals will ultimately lead to the quantum leap in the health services available at the block level.


  • Bare Necessities Index is a good way to ensure equal access to the bare necessities across sectors, states and the country.
    • It shows that there needs to be a special focus on public health.
  • Multiplicity of schemes has to be addressed and integrated; better synergy shall be there among the centre and states.
  • The status of basic needs in the country must be improved as it would lead to the growth of the country and bring improvement in the rank of Human development Index (HDI).
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