Mapping tribal development in India through the lens of MGNREGS
The UN estimates that there are 370 million indigenous people existing across 90 countries of the world. They constitute 5% of the world population but 15% of the poorest . With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a renewed focus towards addressing the development needs of the indigenous population especially with regards to education and livelihood. There is a growing global recognition that innovative focused interventions can catalyse development of the indigenous population. Socially, culturally and economically isolated, these groups need special assistance schemes to enable them overcome poverty and secure their livelihoods. However, it is equally important to include indigenous communities in driving their development to enhance transparency, local empowerment, demand-responsiveness, greater downward accountability, and enhanced local capacity.
India alone houses more than 705 such indigenous groups termed as Scheduled Tribes (also Adivasis). Out of these, 75 tribal groups are known as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) characterised by pre-agriculture level of technology; stagnant or declining population; extremely low literacy; and subsistence level of economy . As per Census 2011, the total Scheduled Tribe population of India is 10. 43 crore with a significant proportion of them living in rural areas. Besides, more than half of the tribal population is spread across the States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan and the North Eastern States.
Apart from Constitutional provisions, the Government of India has launched several schemes for the socio- economic development of the tribal population. As the level of poverty continues to remain high among tribal groups with 47.3% of Scheduled Tribes living below the poverty line in rural areas, it is imperative to develop tribal centric poverty alleviation plans . India has acknowledged the importance of focused interventions which finds reflection in the 11th Plan Document of the Planning Commission “The issues in tribal development are complex and often not understood very well…. tribal groups differs from each other in customs, practices, traditions, faith, and language. As such, uniformity in socio-economic development plans for all tribal groups and programmes is not appropriate”. In fact, focused interventions are particularly necessary as it is difficult to reach tribal communities which are geographically and culturally isolated.
It is in this context that bottom-up, demand-driven and rights-based Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Government of India’s flagship programme, is well suited to protect the interest of these vulnerable tribal communities. It entitles rural households to 100 days of wage- employment and promotes creation of productive and durable assets. But, innovative interventions are necessary to utilise the provisions of the scheme ensuring maximum benefit to the tribal communities. With income and livelihood security, these historically marginalised communities are better placed to combat poverty, under-nutrition and food crisis. Moreover, special approaches and plans in MGNREGS are crucial for proactive inclusion of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) who are threatened by imminent ethnocide.
Initiatives fostering innovation
Odisha Modernising Economy, Governance and Administration (OMEGA) Programme, funded by Government of UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) and managed by IPE Global Limited, developed a specific strategy called “Strategy for Juang Tribes (PVTG) in Keonjhar District” for ensuring livelihood security to the Juang Community in the tribal dominated state of Odisha. The Strategy was initially introduced in Banspal block and later up scaled to Harichandanpur & Telkoi Blocks in Keonjhar district, the Juang concentrated belt of Odisha. Techno economically backward and less acculturated, these tribal groups suffer from poverty and under-nutrition due to lack of alternate and guaranteed employment opportunities. Thus, the strategy focused on need based planning, door to door and mass awareness campaigns, institutional convergence and monitoring at various levels.
- Participatory planning was pivotal in understanding the needs of the community and offering solutions based on those needs. Discussions between OMEGA team and the district administration led to planned actions focused on optimal utilisation of soil and water resources along with integrated conservation and regeneration. Planning process needs to be sensitive to the tradition and culture of tribal groups
- Developing an effective communication strategy is an important step in creating awareness about MGNREGS work in tribal areas. Based on the understanding of the local culture and tradition, appropriate communication channels that can reach the target group effectively are identified. In case of this particular intervention, door to door campaigns, mikes, MGNGRES Rath, Folk media in regional language for PVTG areas were used to timely inform societies. Selected communication channels should possess the ability to disseminate information such that communities retain the messages and discuss them with others
- Strategic convergence with other Schemes was another outstanding feature of the programme. District Rural Development Agencies (DRDA) Keonjhar collaborated with cross sector entities i.e. government line departments, NGOs and technical agencies working closely with the government. Focused MGNREGS interventions were undertaken for providing sustained livelihoods to Juang communities
- Strengthening of monitoring systems was essential to ensure that MGNREGS is implemented smoothly and the concerns of the communities are addressed. The Act mandates presence of a Vigilance committee and monitoring committee at various levels, but it was through the intervention that the committees were made functional at the cluster, block and DRDA level
In this case, innovations in MGNREGS has been able to create productive and gainful employment in Juang belts of Odisha. Thus, it becomes a learning that staggering inequalities between the tribal communities and mainstream stream societies can be reduced through interventions that focus on the needs of the tribal community. Each tribal group has a different development index and focused interventions should aim at narrowing inequalities and development gaps through special strategies.