22/01/2018 9:23 AM IST | Updated 22/01/2018 9:24 AM IST

How Poor Tribals Were Left Behind In India's Race To Achieve Millennium Development Goal Of Eradicating 'Extreme' Poverty

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India in the last one and a half decades has strenuously strived to 'Eradicate Extreme Poverty' with the adoption of the Millennium Declaration at the United Nations in the Year 2000 and the consequent signing of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). India's recent five-year plans also had targets in tune with the MDG target for eradicating extreme poverty. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) has published the 'Final Country Report-Millennium Development Goals' (MDG Final Report) in November 2017 which claims that India is an early achiever on the target of reducing extreme poverty by halving in the period 1992-2015 under MDG 1.

The MDG Final Report presented an overall status of India's achievement on reducing poverty with respect to MDG target. However, the report does not covered how the socially marginalized groups like Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs) have progressed in achieving the poverty reduction target set under MDG 1. This article presents the status of SCs and STs on the target of reducing extreme poverty as determined under MDG 1 and on the programs and policies of the government of India in place to eradicate extreme poverty. For the analysis of the situation, the indicators which are prescribed in the MDG Final Report are used in this article.

The report does not covered how the socially marginalized groups like Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs) have progressed in achieving the poverty reduction target set under MDG 1.

The MOSPI used the Poverty Head Count Ratio (PHCR) figures based on Tendulkar Methodology as the indicator in the Final MDG Report to record India's progress on poverty eradication. The PHCR is the proportion of the population whose per-capita income/consumer expenditure is below the official threshold(s), that is, 'Poverty Line' set by the National Government. The latest poverty estimates are available for 2011-12. The PHCR for the total population was 45.7% in 1993-94 which reduced by more than half to 22% as per the latest poverty estimates. Similarly, the PHCR for SC population reduced from 60.5% in 1993-94 to 29.4% in 2011-12.

% BPL Population Social Category-wise (Tendulkar Methodology)

Source: Panagriya & More, 2013, MDG Final Country Report

Thus, the claim made by MOSPI in the Final Country Report that India has achieved the MDG target of halving the PHCR between 1990-2015 holds true for the total as well as the SC population. However, the ST population have missed the MDG target of reducing poverty by a huge margin.

The STs have missed the target of halving their PHCR set under MDG 1 by 11.15 percentage points. The PHCR for STs in the year 1993-94 was 63.7% which should have been reduced to 31.85% to meet the MDG target but, according to the latest estimates, the PHCR for STs is 43%.

Also, if one looks at the state level trends in poverty figures, in none of the top 7 ST populous states, the MDG target of halving the PHCR has been achieved for ST category.

% PHCR of ST Population in Top 7 ST Populated States (Tendulkar Methodology)

Source: Panagriya & More, 2013, Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2016-17

In the three states i.e. Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra where a large share of ST population resides, the STs have missed the MDG target of reducing poverty by halving between 1990-2015 by almost 20 percentage points.

Even in some of the top SC populated states like UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha which accounts for around 38% of the total SC population, the MDG target for reducing PHCR by halving between 1992-2015 have not been achieved for the SC population. The SCs in Bihar have missed the target by 12.8 percentage points, MP fell short by 11.55 percentage points, SCs in UP missed the target by 6.8 percentage points while in Odisha the target was missed by 8.7 percentage points by the SC population.

​​​​​​Gap Between Rural and Urban PHCR

The MDG Final Report noted that gap in rural-urban PHCR is still persisting in India which indicates that, the disparities in economic conditions by place of residence is continuing. The populace in the rural areas has a higher share in BPL population as compared to the populace in the urban areas.

Gap Between Rural-Urban PHCR, 1993-94 to Latest Estimates (2011-12), (In %)

Source: Panagriya & More, 2013, Ministry of Tribal Affairs 2016-17

If observed categorically, the gap between Rural and Urban PHCR is highest among STs (21.2 percentage points) followed by total population (11.7 percentage points) and SC population (9.8 percentage points).

The gap between Rural-Urban PHCR has reduced by 6.7 percentage points at all India level, 3.6 percentage points for ST population while just 0.9 percentage points for SCs in the period 1993-94 to the latest estimates of poverty (2011-12).

Percent Distribution of Population in Quintiles of Wealth Index, 2015-16

Wealth index is score based on the number and kinds of consumer goods a household own, ranging from a television to a bicycle or car, and housing characteristics such as the source of drinking water, toilet facilities, and flooring materials.

DIstribution of SC, ST and Total Population on Quintiles of Wealth Index, 2015-16 (In %)

Source: NFHS 4

According to NFHS 4 (2015-16), 45.9% of the ST households lies in the lowest quintile (bottom 20%) of wealth index as compared to just 26.6% of SC household and 20.3% of the total households. On contrary, mere 5% of the total ST households lies in the highest quintile (top 20%) of wealth index, as compared to 10.9% of SC households and 20.1% of the total households.

Insights from Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011

The SECC 2011 provides data on the monthly income of the highest earning member of the households in rural areas. The data is available for SC, ST and Non-SC/ST households in three income bracket i.e. less than 5,000; 5,000-10,000 and greater than 10,000 rupees per month.

Classification of Rural Households Based on Monthly Income of Highest Earning Member

Source: SECC 2011

At all India level, the percentage of households whose monthly income of the highest earning member is less than Rs. 5,000/month, is 86.5% for ST households, 83.6% for SC households and just 70.3% for the non-SC/ST households. Similarly, if we look at the percentage of households whose highest earning member monthly income is more than Rs. 10,000/month, it is 9.8% for non-SC/ST households while it is just 4.5% for ST households and 4.7% for SC households.

In states like Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh where a large share of the tribal population lives, the monthly income of the highest earning member of more than 92% ST households is less than Rs.5000/month.

The Bhuria Commission Report noted that the major reason for the huge difference between PHCR of ST and the non-ST population is due to the reason that, a large share of ST agricultural labourers are landless "with no productive assets and no access to sustainable employment as well as minimum wages". According to SECC 2011, In rural areas, around 30% of ST households are landless deriving major part of their income from manual casual labour as compared to just 18.42% of non-SC/ST households.

The MDG Final Report mentioned MGNREGA as one of the major programs of the government of India to alleviate poverty in the rural areas. The works permitted under MGNREGA address causes of chronic poverty like drought, deforestation and soil erosion so that the employment generation is sustainable. Studies undertaken by government and several other research institutions have noted that wages provided under MGNREGA has been proven to help the marginalized communities in coming out of abject poverty. The major target group under the act are SC, ST and other BPL households.

The number of total households worked under MGNREGA has increased from 4.89 crores in 2012-13 to 5.04 crores in 2016-17 at all India level. However, in the same time period, the number of ST households working under MGNREGA has reduced from 92.33 lakhs in 2012-13 to just 81.19 lakhs in 2016-17, marking a reduction of 11.3%. Similarly, in the same period, the SC households working under the scheme has reduced from 1.08 crores to 1.06 crores, marking a reduction of approx. 2%.

Even though MGNREGA guarantees employment for 100 days on demand in a year, the average days of employment provided per year under MGNREGA have not exceeded 50 days, at all India level in the last five years.

For SC households the average days of employment per year under MGNREGA have remained almost 45 days in the last 5 years while for ST households it has reduced from 51 in 2012-13 to 49 in 2016-17.

Average Days of Employment/Household Provided Annually Under MGNREGA, 2012-2017


Along with the reduction in the number of SC/ST households getting work under the scheme, the percentage of the households which are getting 100 days of employment under the act has also reduced significantly.

% of Households Getting 100 Days of Employment in a Year Under MGNREGA, 2012-17


The percentage of total households getting work for 100 days under the act has fallen from 10.3% in 2012-13 to just 7.6% in 2016-17. Similarly, the percentage of ST households getting 100 days of work has fallen down from 11% to 8.3% in the same time period, while the percentage of SC household getting 100 days of employment has fallen from 10% to just 7.5% in the period 2012-13 to 2016-17.

Several studies conducted in several states of the country has documented the fact that there is a huge amount of compensation and wages pending to be paid under MGNREGA. A study conducted by Azim Premji University in late 2017 concluded that the government has released only 32% of the wages it owes to workers on time under MGNREGA during the first two quarters of the financial year of 2017-18. This is in contrast to the Ministry of Rural Development's September 2017, claims that "around 85 percent of the wages are being paid to the workers in time".

Another worrying fact is that the total expenditure made under MGNREGA as a share of GDP has fallen down drastically since the year 2009-10. In the year 2009-10, the expenditure made under MGNREGA as the share of the GDP was 0.60% which has fallen down to just 0.38% in the year 2016-17.

Source: For the year 2009-12 Economic Survey 2013-14 & MGNREGA MIS; For 2012-13 to 2016-17 PIB, MoRD, GOI

Hence, the claim made by the current government that the allocation to MGNREGA has been highest ever in 2017-18 at Rs. 48,000 crores is not correct if we see this year allocation as the share of the total GDP.

The analysis presented here clearly indicates that even though, India was an early achiever of reducing poverty under MDG, the ST population missed the target by a significant margin. The STs are still living in the state of abject poverty and a major share of ST population does not own even the basic consumable goods like television or a bicycle and don't have access to basic infrastructures like a clean source of drinking water, toilet facilities etc. Even program like MGNREGA, which exclusively cater to the rural population where 90% of the total ST population resides, has not functioned properly with full capacity to help the Adivasi's in coming out of abject poverty.

After the termination of MDGs in 2015, the MDG 1 related to 'Eradicating Extreme Poverty' is now being pursued as Sustainable Development Goal 1 to 'End poverty in all its forms everywhere' and SDG 8 & 10. Thus if India is to achieve the targets set under the SDGs, it is imperative that the central and the various state governments bring back their focus on the tribal population by prioritizing them on various welfare policies/schemes. Also, in the upcoming budget session, the budgetary allocation to MGNREGA should at least be increased to 0.60% of the GDP.

(The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.)