Unequal growth, regional imbalance adversely affect socio-economic development of tribal population in Gujarat

tribalThe study of tribes is generally a domain of social anthropologists and  sociologists. In a rare attempt, a group of social scientists, many of them economists, mainly Gujarat-based, have come together to publish a book on how economic development has affected tribals in the state. A counterview.org report:  

The new book, “Tribal Development in Western India”, edited by Amita Shah and Jharna Pathak (Routledge, 2014), not only reinforces the existing view that the tribal population of Gujarat, as elsewhere in the country, lags behind its non-tribal counterpart, especially in human development index (HDI), as found reflected in their poor health and educational indices. The book simultaneously suggests that, despite the hype around projects like Van Kalyan Yojna (VKY), announced by the state government to alleviate the Gujarat tribals’ plight during the 11th Five-Year-Plan (2007-12), they remain victims of unequal distribution of basic infrastructural facilities, on one hand, and low wages (leading to their higher levels of poverty), at their place of stay, on the other.

Despite lack of access to latest data, which the 11 social scientists, mainly economists, cite in their papers as the chief constraint for analyzing the situation as of today (a few of the scholars have used 2001 Census of India data, which are 13 years old), they mention how inequalities visi-a-vis other sections of population have bog tribals today, like earlier. Amita Shah and Sujitha OG in their paper, “Poverty and Livelihood among Tribals” point towards how “sustained high level of poverty among tribal communities, despite fast economic growth, has posed the most difficult challenge to contemporary discourse on development in the state… The incidence of poverty among tribal communities is both severe and multidimensional.”

The scholars say, “A quick glance at the official poverty estimates in Gujarat indicates that the state has made major strides towards poverty reduction from about 31 per cent in during 1983 to 17 per cent during 2004-05. However, the tribal communities have been largely bypassed in this process of poverty reduction. As per the latest official estimates, slightly more than one third of the tribal population (34.3 per cent) in rural Gujarat is poor.” The scholars express particular concern over the fact that the incidence of poverty has lately increased – it was 31.1 per cent in 1993-94, went down to 29.1 per cent in 1999-2000, and again increased to 34.3 per cent in 2004-05.

A similar conclusion has been reached in her paper by Indira Hirway (“Employment and Income Generation among the Tribal Population: Some Critical Issues”), where the scholar says that as many as 11 states “have lower incidence of poverty than that of Gujarat.” The latest National Sample Survey (NSS) report, “Household Consumer Expenditure across Socio-Economic Groups” (October 2012) confirms Hirway’s suggestion. The report suggests that monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) among tribals in rural Gujarat is Rs 879, lower than 12 major states out of 20. Punjab tribals’ MPCE, which suggests spending power of a population, is the highest with Rs 1,512, followed by Haryana Rs 1,401, Himachal Pradesh Rs 1,370, J&K 1,223, Kerala Rs 1,208, Assam Rs 1,032, Andhra Pradesh Rs 999, Tamil Nadu Rs 989, Maharashtra Rs 961 and Karnataka Rs 901. The following chart illustrates the exact position:

Monthly per capita expenditure among tribals across India
Monthly per capita expenditure among tribals across India

While none of the social scientists use the latest Census of India 2011 household data or the India Human Development Report 2011, which are in public space for quite some time, Amita Shah and Jharna Pathak in their introductory remarks suggest how recent efforts on the part of the Gujarat government towards tribal amelioration have remained well below expectations. While Gujarat accounts for 15 per cent of tribal population, the state government’s increase in expenditure from six per cent of the budget during the 10th Five Year Plan to nine per cent during the 11th Plan, they say, still lags “behind the stipulated norm.” They add, the rise in expenditure is subject to a caveat – the expenditure is “likely to include all expenses incurred by the line departments in the designated tribal areas. This may not necessarily imply direct spending for the tribal beneficiaries.”

In his preface, written in September 2012, sociologist Ghanshyam Shah points towards how VKY, Gujarat government’s flagship programme for the tribal regions, is “basically a list of activities and schemes selected in an ad-hoc manner.” He adds, “It does not have a sound policy framework that links the resources of the region with development, and the development of the region with the local people. The fact that tribal areas have a specific potential growth in the future has not received enough importance in this general strategy, which mainly focuses on economic growth.” In his view, the VKY, instead of “preserving the improving natural resources in the tribal regions”, seeks to facilitate the “exploitation of the region’s resources by profit-driven corporate sector players.”

Indira Hirway in her paper studies the issue in greater detail, saying, “VKY has not paid adequate attention to the relationship between the tribal population and forests. It has in some ways ignored the fact that under the Scheduled Tribals and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (which began being implemented in 2008), 84,000 tribal households are entitled to get forest land.” Through VKY, while “footloose industries” will have a place in the future growth of the region, the drivers of growth should have been “natural resources of the region.” Hirway criticizes VKY for its “dependence on corporate sector, including MNCs” for skill development. This may help maximize corporate profits, but “at the cost of the tribal economy” and “sustainable growth.”

Hirway also suggests how infrastructure has been oddly distributed in Gujarat. Thus, “the large dams, with their network of canals, serve mainly non-tribal regions”, she says, adding, there is simultaneously no effort to “promote irrigation in the tribal region.” In fact, “as against 32 per cent of area irrigated in the state, 30 per cent of the tribal talukas have less than 5 per cent cultivated area under irrigation and 45 per cent of the talukas have less than 15 per cent area under irrigation.” Only, “three talukas have more than 30 per cent area under irrigation.” This “inadequate irrigation is reflected in the frequency of droughts in the tribal region”, she comments, adding, “It is quite ironical that in spite of the high average annual rainfall (800mm to 2,000mm) in the tribal region, half of the tribal talukas are under the drought prone area programme or desert development programme.”

Lack of water has adversely affected government schemes related with dairy development in the region, suggests Rudra Narayan Mishra (“Dairy Farming for Landless Tribal Households”). Basing on a primary survey in Tapi, Sabarkantha, Surat, Navsari and Valsad, Mishra finds that animal feed and green fodder, coupled with scarcity of water, are the main reasons why tribal farmers  get a “low milk yield” from the cattle they own. In Sabarkantha 25.5 per cent tribal farmers cite this as the main reason for low milk yield, in Tapi 34.3 per cent, in Surat 63 per cent, and in Navsari and Valsad a high 77.3 per cent. The scholar comments, “Though the beneficiaries in Surat are mainly from Mandvi taluka, which has a river flowing through the middle and has a dam on it, they still face shortage of fodder because the beneficiaries mostly belong to the Kotwalia tribe, who has no land of their won to grow green fodder.”

Jharna Pathak in her paper, “Agroforestry in Tribal Areas” suggests how scarcity of water has led to “groundwater depletion” in the tribal areas. “The growth rate of areas irrigated by tubewells is particularly high (13 per cent) among tribal areas as compared to a moderate rate of four per cent among the non-tribal areas”, she says, adding, “Within tribal areas, the growth rate of irrigated area, especially through tubewells, is significantly higher than compared to other sources… This suggests that tribal areas, of late, have started catching up with non-tribal areas in terms of exploiting deeper aquifers.” This, she suggests, may be “prompted by compelling conditions of competitive withdrawal of groundwater in the heartland of tribal dominated areas…”

— Rajiv Shah

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