The condition of Scheduled Tribes staying in the hinterland of Maharashtra appears to be one of the worst in the country with almost 61.6 per cent of them living below poverty line (BPL).
These numbers tabled in Parliament on Monday are way higher than the national average of 45.3 per cent for tribals staying in rural areas. Maharashtra is second only to Odisha where 63.5 per cent of STs living in rural areas are BPL.
The Maharashtra government spends nearly Rs 4,000 crore annually on tribal development, yet the number of those who are BPL has increased, reflecting in the spate of deaths of tribal children, which has been blamed on malnutrition.
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The categorisation under BPL is done based on parameters laid down by the Suresh Tendulkar committee, which stipulated that anyone with a daily per capita expenditure of less than Rs 27 and Rs 33 in rural and urban areas respectively would be below the poverty line. According to the calculations of the Tendulkar committee, roughly 22 per cent of India is deemed to be BPL.
Maharashtra has a tribal population of 1.05 crore who constitute over nine per cent of its population. There are 45 Scheduled Tribe communities in Maharashtra with the tribal population largely concentrated in the western hilly districts of Dhule, Nandurbar, Jalgaon, Nashik, Palghar and Thane and the eastern forest districts of Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Gondia, Nagpur, Amravati and Yavatmal. Over 85 per cent of these tribals stay in rural areas and the rest, 15 per cent, in urban areas. The economic plight of Scheduled Tribes (STs) is the worst among all social groups in the state. The plight of STs is a little better in urban areas.While urban poverty in Maharashtra is pegged at 9.1 per cent, that of STs staying in cities is 23.3 per cent.
In rural areas, the STs of Maharashtra are the most vulnerable group. While total rural poverty in the state is 24.2 per cent it is more than double for STs with 61.6 per cent of them living BPL. This number is second only to Odisha where rural ST poverty is 63.5 per cent.
What is worrisome is that in spite of substantial funds being spent by the state, the BPL ST’s in rural areas is increasing. In 1993-94 their share was 50.38 per cent which in 2004-05 rose to 56.6 per cent and finally to 61.65 per cent.
Activists claim that because the community is largely unconsolidated and is not vocal about its rights, it has been easy for the state to ignore their problems. “The voice of tribals is not as consolidated as that of Dalits in India. People get concerned of tribals only when a mishap occurs with this group. There are well intentioned bureaucrats formulating polices to help the community but it is a reality that at the lower rung these policies do not translate into action to ensure development of tribals,” Dr Bipin Jojo of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences Centre for Social Justice and Governance said.
They also claim that government policies formulated for improvement of the group are largely ineffective.
“Earlier, we had policies to help improve human development indicators. We have now moved on to policies which concentrate more on creation of wealth. Sadly, these policies are failing miserably because they are not in tune with ground realities. So we have a situation where there is no movement of human development indicators nor are we ensuring that wealth in created in these communities,” former MLA and tribal rights activist Vivek Pandit said.