Vision for tribal development


Despite decades of special status accorded to them, has the tribal population in India made significant socio-economic progress? Is it time to redefine the vision for their development? Mukesh Khullar studies Maharashtra state’s Vision 2020 tribal development policy and other legislations to see if they hold some answers.

The general perception of tribal development in India is that there has not been a significant improvement in their socio-economic status. This is especially so, if the perception is based on media reports, legislative discussions and court proceedings, as much of the discussion hovers around misappropriation of budget, misdirected schemes and poor implementation of various statutory, welfare and protective measures.

Now, it is true that government publications like the Maharashtra Human Development Report, 2012, point to a significant improvement in human development indicators of the tribal population over the past ten years. We know that tribal candidates are getting selected as civil servants, doctors, engineers, academicians and so on. There is a reasonably good infrastructure of roads, communication, electricity, health, nutrition, education and public institutions created in most of the tribal areas.

Yet, a periodical analytical account of the tribal development work against a clearly spelt out vision of tribal
development is missing, which perhaps contributes to this persistent negative perception.

Nehru’s vision

The Panchsheel principles for tribal development enunciated by our first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru set the context in which tribal development was to be carried out. These principles essentially talk of promoting socio economic development without disturbing the socio cultural fabric of tribal life.

It was understood that tribal development effort was different from development of other disadvantaged social groups. The vision was that the tribals would nurture their own governing structures without much outsider involvement, keeping the development programmes simple, which in turn, would allow them to decide priorities as per their understanding. And development would be measured not by statistics alone.

Hence, the Tribal Development policy hinges on two planks. One, to provide dedicated budgetary support to address developmental needs of the tribals, especially to bridge huge gaps that exist in different sectoral domains, and the other, by providing constitutional and statutory safeguards to actively promote equality.

Apart from reservations in education, appointments and political institutions, protection legislations on prevention of Atrocities and protection of Civil Rights, there have been progressive social enactments like Forest Rights Act and Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Area (PESA) Act recently. These legislations, recognising the limitations of the tribal population in their access to the mainstream governing institutions, bestowed the rights to self-govern. But there are vested interests at work and it will be some time before the tribals can realise the benefits of these legislative measures. The Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) has been created for supplementing the normal budgets of the line departments promoting the developmental initiatives of their respective domains. Considering the dispersed tribal habitations, relatively under-developed infrastructure and inadequate institutional presence, planning norms are modified and relaxed to improve reach of the planned interventions. Consequential financial burden is sought to be borne by allocations under TSP.

Need of the hour

Despite increasing budgetary outflows and proactive welfare legislations, there is no assurance from the administrative system that the tribal development efforts are working in tandem to bring the tribal population at par with the mainstream population within a given time frame. There is a need to draw up a short term and medium term vision of tribal development for planning targeted interventions. This will have to be well supported by competent organisations to deliver these interventions alongside an analytical framework, which correlates achievements with the planned measures.

Maharashtra’s Vision 2020 for Tribal Development

The state of Maharashtra has envisioned a Vision 2020 document for tribal development which is guided by the twin objectives of mainstreaming the tribal population to bring their socio economic condition at par with the rest of the population, and of preserving their cultural heritage so as to learn from their indigenous knowledge. Tribal development efforts would be catapulted from survival issues to achieving significant development gains through productivity enhancement, diversity in occupation, and reduced migration, thus, resulting in higher economic prosperity.


  • The department would strive to reduce the developmental deficits by half by 2020 as compared to the state average in health, nutrition, education, infrastructure, road connectivity, electrification, drinking water and sanitation.
  • The department would build social capital through new institutions that aim to aggregate the agricultural and nontimber forest produce of dispersed tribal habitations and link them with the markets for creating value chains in different commodities.
  • The department would impart training to equip the tribal youth with necessary skillsets in order to diversify their employment options while creating opportunities for selfemployment to service the needs of the scheduled area.

Preservation of cultural heritage

  • The department would codify the customary laws of settling minor property and personal disputes, marriage and inheritance disputes and make them a part of the respective main legislation to achieve self-rule for the tribal communities as envisaged under PESA.
  • The department would strive to document tribal cultural traditions that promote living in communion, with no gender bias, and in oneness with nature.
  • The department would ensure that all individual and community forest rights envisaged under Forest Rights Act are fully secured and a mechanism is put in place to sustainably harness the consequential benefits.


  • The department would focus on developing an accountability framework and would create a facilitative organisation structure for working horizontally across related departments and agencies.
  • The department would set performance benchmarks in identified indicators to measure progress through a
    composite development index that promotes holistic and a fulfilling tribal lifestyle for others to emulate, while achieving better quality of life index for tribals.
  • The department would bring out a semi-annual situation report on the development status of the tribal population of Maharashtra, ranking different project areas on the development index and ranking sectoral domains within each project area.

A new action agenda to realise the vision

In keeping with the vision document, necessary changes would have to be made in the organisation structure and work culture in order to build capacity to work horizontally across departments and enforce implementation of various statutory measures.

It is expected that the Tribal Research and Training Institute would be the knowledge partner of the government to help understand the tribal society and to train the functionaries of various departments on the salient ethnography of each tribe. In addition, the Tribal Development Corporation would need to change its role from being a market player to that of a market developer. Infusion of capital, technology and modern management practices is needed to ensure linkage of markets with the tribal farmers.

A comprehensive tribal development plan would need to be prepared that places the tribal sub-plan in proper perspective in the general plan of the domain departments for the tribal area. Clear strategy would need to be developed to ensure that the plan would get adopted by the tribal communities. There would have to be a larger role for the community based organisations.

A tribal development index on the lines of National Gross Happiness Index of Bhutan would need to be constructed that measures not just the performance of a work plan created from the vision and its impact on the development deficits but would also promote holistic living practiced by tribal communities. Periodical situation reports on the impact of tribal development efforts should be published. Repeated updating of the baseline survey of the tribal households conducted by Tribal Research and Training Institute could alert the service deliverers and the stakeholders on the need to drop some interventions or to amend their implementation approach.

A clearly spelt out vision over short and medium term pragmatically outlines the intent and the determination of the government to deliver results. It galvanises the different stakeholders to contribute for its realisation. A vision for tribal development which upholds the dignity of the tribal population, while setting up an agenda for bridging the development deficits, is what genuine effort can and should achieve.


Mukesh Khullar

The writer is an IAS officer of 1985 batch allotted to Maharashtra Cadre, currently serving as its Principal Secretary in Tribal Development Department. In most of his postings he got exposure to tribal areas of Maharashtra which included his service tenures as Collector, Thane, Assistant Collector, Jalgaon and Gadchiroli, CEO, Nagpur Zilla Parishad and MD, Maharashtra State Cooperative Tribal Development Corporation, Nashik.