The latest Census of India figures have revealed that, despite tall claims of the Gujarat government of development having touched marginalized groups of the state, large sections of the state’s tribal population is facing unprecedented unemployment and marginalization of workforce. An analysis of Census’ data on workers suggests that in the total population of the age group 15 to 34, 2.17 crore, 7.13 lakh persons, or around 3.29 per cent, are found to be seeking jobs. Then there is 9.65 per cent of the population – or 20.93 lakh – in this age group which is forced to work as marginal workers for a period of three to six months in a year. However, a comparison drawn with the two most neglected social groups reveals that while the Dalits of the age group face almost a similar proportion of joblessness and marginalization, the tribals’ predicament remains extremely pitiable.
The Census data go to show that 9.34 per cent of the tribals (2.70 lakh out of 29.67 lakh) – almost triple the proportion of all sections as also Dalits — in this age group are seeking jobs. Worse, 22.46 per cent of the tribals (6.66 lakh out of 27.67 lakh) – or double that of all sections as also Dalits – are forced to work as marginal workers, for a period between three and six months in a year. Thanks lack of job opportunities in the tribal areas, a big proportion of the younger age-group of tribals are known to be forced to migrate out of the backward tribal areas to Gujarat’s metropolitan centres like Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara. They also move to work as migrant workers in the cash rich agricultural fields of South Gujarat, North Gujarat and Saurashtra.
What is particularly astounding is that, tribals make up 38.84 per cent of those who seek jobs in Gujarat in the age-group 15-34 – there are 2.77 lakh tribal job seekers among out of a total of 7.13 lakh. Further, the tribals make up 31.84 per cent of all marginal workers in this age group in Gujarat – 6.66 lakh out of 20.93 lakh. The data do not just suggest that huge regional imbalance continues to exist in Gujarat between the well-off areas of the state and the neglected eastern tribal belt. They also point towards the fact that the 15-point programme, in the name of Adivasi Kalyan Yojna, which the Gujarat government announced almost a decade ago in order to uplift the tribals by building infrastructure facilities in the eastern belt, has not led to any bridging of gap between tribals and non-tribals.
A further analysis of the Census data of the tribals living in the eastern districts of Gujarat – right from Valsad in South Gujarat to Banaskantha in North Gujarat – reveal where the problem lies. Thus, the data go to suggest that the predominantly tribal district of Dahod, which is the hub migration to other parts of Gujarat, has the highest percentage of tribal marginal workers – they form 37.5 per cent of the district’s tribal population of 5.01 lakh of age-group 15-34. Further, 16.97 per cent of the district’s tribal population in this age group is found to be seeking job, which again the highest in Gujarat. Next is Narmada district, which interestingly houses one of India’s most ambitious projects, Narmada dam, now on the verge of completion. with the Government of India granting crucial permission to raise its height to 138.64 metres.
Analysis of the Census data of Narmada shows that the district has 27.22 per cent marginal workers and 12.88 per cent of job seekers out of the total tribal population of 1.60 lakh in the age-group 15-34. Despite huge investments running into tens of thousands of crores of rupees, the dam itself has, apparently, failed to provide employment or bring down marginalization of the workforce of the tribal district. Now, the Gujarat government plans to build world’s highest statue off Narmada dam, again within the district, in the memory or Sardar Patel. Plans have also been worked out to convert the area surrounding the dam into a top tourism destination. Meanwhile, tribals of as many as 70 villages of the district have protested against such a move, as they fear their land will be acquired in order to implement the projects.
The Census data also indicate that the situation is not very different with other districts’ predominantly tribal population. Thus, Sabarkantha district has 24.50 per cent of marginal workers and 11.84 per cent of job seekers out of 1.76 lakh tribal population in the age-group 15-34. Tapi district has 20.13 per cent marginal workers and 8.25 per cent job seeking among tribals of the age group. Valsad district has 18.83 per cent marginal workers and 8.25 per cent job seekers among tribals of the age group. And, the Dangs district has 25.25 per cent marginal workers and 9.60 per cent job seekers of its predominantly tribal population.
— Rajiv Shah