Roadmap to Socio-economic Development of Tribals in India


Tribals in India have faced a multitude of challenges with regards to their socio-economic development which has historically been characterised by marginalisation and discrimination. As per government data, India is home to the second largest population of tribals in the world, constituting 8.6% of the Indian population at 10.4 crores. Also known as scheduled tribes (ST’s), there are over 730 recognised tribal groups under the Indian constitution that are mainly concentrated in the central belt of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and in the seven states of North-east India. Besides these major hotspots, tribal populations are scattered all over the country from Rajasthan and Bihar to Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, stretching till the Andaman Nicobar Islands. Despite efforts to bring in policies facilitating the development of this population, a large number of tribals continue to earn their livelihood primarily from agriculture and related practices, thereby subjecting their future to uncertainty and limited economic expansion possibilities. Moreover, there is the case of social exclusion of tribals from mainstream Indian context primarily because they are seen as “primitive”. The objective of this policy paper is to draw upon previously collected data to analyse and present a comprehensive roadmap to address the issues faced by the tribal populations. 


The word tribe is defined as a “socially cohesive unit, associated with a territory, the members of which regard themselves as politically autonomous” (Mitchell, 1972: 232). Historically, tribals have been described as a people who are ‘pre-civilised’ or ‘pre-state’ by anthropologists which gave rise to the notion of tribals being ‘primitive’ because of their refusal to integrate themselves into the so-called modern society (David, 2016). Within the Indian context the question of tribals has taken a unique turn. Tribes refers to Scheduled tribes recognised by Article 342 of the Indian constitution, although currently the government has also introduced particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVGTs) (Thakur, 2012). While most nations in the 21st century have opted to integrate tribals into the society by pushing the idea of modernity, India, under the vision of Nehru opted for the ‘Panchsheel’ strategy (Puvvada, 2018). The policy basically proclaimed that tribals should be able to retain their identity and culture and yet be a part of modern civil society, subject to socio-economic developmental programmes. In other words, they should be allowed to transform their culture as per their own understanding without interference from the outside. 

The constitution of India, post-independence, adopted this kind of ‘integrationist’ approach and proclaimed multiple provisions for tribal development including statutory recognition of tribal communities, special representation in parliament, recognition of scheduled areas, reservation in government jobs, etc. (Resources from Odisha State Open University). The planning commissions too contributed to bringing in welfare policies for future development of tribals. 

The first five-year plan gave the principle of designing general development programs securing special provisions for backwards classes including tribals. The second five-year plan was responsible for the creation of 43 tribal development blocks (TDB’s) previously known as special multi-purpose tribal blocks (SMPTB’s). The third five-year plan aimed to bring about greater equality of opportunity while the fourth set up 6 pilot projects in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa in 1971-72 with a Tribal Development Agency in each. These agencies were later merged with Integrated Tribal Development Projects during the Fifth Plan. The TSP (tribal sub-plan) was also launched encompassing various measures including increased fund allocations. The sixth plan focused on economic activities as opposed to infrastructural development while the seventh focused on educational advancement. The eighth and ninth plans aimed to bridge the gap between tribals and other sections of the society through a multi-inclusive approach involving literacy, financial and socio-economic advancements. The tenth plan tried to find the root cause of unresolved issues and lack of proper implementation. It thus focused primarily on bureaucratic issues. The eleventh and the twelfth five-year plans brought no significant changes apart from re-attempting to upgrade the socio-economic conditions of tribals via education, infrastructure and integration with civic society (Suresh, 2014)

Despite government efforts to bring about developmental changes within the tribal sections of society, there still exist multiple problems. Poverty remains a generational issue, economic displacement and land alienation exists in great numbers. Political representation, although better than earlier, is still an issue. Inaccessibility of water and health resources, massive drop out rates, lack of infrastructural development, etc. still plague this section of the society that is often placed at the lowest hierarchy within social norms.

As such, this paper focuses on the state of health, education and employment amongst tribal groups both generally and specifically for those residing in MP, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The main aim of this paper is to examine major socio-economic challenges faced by tribal populations as well as  the background of these problems. It also looks at the existing government policies via a comparative analysis between the state and centre to identify the gaps that arise in effective implementation and offers suggestions to mitigate the same. The paper emphasises the importance of policy synergy and coordination amongst various stakeholders including governmental and tribal organisations and looks at the success factors contributing to policy effectiveness.

Literature Review

The issue of socio-economic development of tribals has been the subject of extensive study for years largely due to the persisting nature of poverty and backwardness in these sections. To understand the status of tribal healthcare, this paper relies primarily on a government report titled “Tribal Health in India: Bridging a Gap and a Roadmap for the Future” which gives a detailed insight into current problems, existing government policies and recommendations to improve the system as a whole.

Similarly, to understand the educational status of scheduled tribes, reports of the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment have been referred to, to gain deeper understanding of the limitations of government policies. A paper titled “Right to education of Scheduled Tribe: An Indian perspective” has also been used as a base paper to draw data from previous years and look into challenges faced by the educational system in place. For employment of scheduled tribes, the Employment Exchange Statistics Report, 2019 has been used to gather data on comparison of scheduled tribes vis a vis the general population and other social minorities. Moreover, a paper titled “Employment Programmes for the Poor and Female Empowerment: The Effect of NREGS on Gender-based Violence in India” has also been utilised to understand the relationship between employment and gender disparities among tribals.

Lastly, to understand state-specific policies, their impacts and the socio-economic status of tribals has been drawn from mainly 3 reports: Jharkhand Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Project: Project Completion Report, the Chhattisgarh Inclusive Rural and Accelerated Agriculture Growth Project (CHIRAAG) and Madhya Pradesh Skills Development Project: Report and Recommendation of the President. Besides these, news articles have also been utilised to give examples of specific cases of exploitation that can substantiate the statements made. 


This paper relied on secondary data obtained from a wide range of sources. Information about the existing socio-economic status of tribes overall and those in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were compiled using government project reports. Data regarding important indicators was tabulated using papers based on Census of India, 2011. Information regarding effective implementation of centrally-sponsored government welfare schemes was based on presidential impact assessment reports and other papers. Vital statistics on policy effectiveness regarding state-sponsored schemes was available in local languages on official websites and thus this paper relied on news articles and reports to identify areas of concern.

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Author: Aarushi Mahajan