Skip to main content

Dimensions of vulnerabilities afflicting India's 'particularly vulnerable' tribal groups

By Prof RR Prasad* 

In the 2023–24 Union Budget, which was released on February 1, 2023, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a mission for the welfare of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). For the following three years, a budget of Rs 15,000 crore has been set out for the group's socioeconomic development. One of the seven Saptarishi goals outlined in this year's Budget, "Reaching The Last Mile," would include the start of the Pradhan Mantri PVTG Mission. 
In India, there are 75  PVTGs that will profit from this programme. The PVTG development mission would provide secure homes, clean drinking water, education, nutrition, road and telecom connectivity, and livelihood to the tribal populations that are particularly vulnerable.

Characteristics of the PVTGs

The PVTGs) are the most underprivileged and deprived tribal communities in India. PVTGs are those scheduled tribes characterized by: 
  1. Pre-agriculture level of technology, 
  2. Stagnant or declining population, 
  3. Extremely low literacy, and 4.Subsistence level of economy.
The Government of India had started identification of PVTGs in 1975. As per 2001 census, there are 75 tribes identified as PVTGs with a total population of 32.6 lakh and residing in 17 states & 1 Union Territory. PVTGs live in remote and scattered geographical locations. More than 80% population of PVTGs is found in MP, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Chhattisgarh.
Earlier called primitive tribal groups - a misnomer as they lived intricately evolved highly ecological lifestyles in close relation to forested homesteads - they are now called particularly vulnerable tribal groups, as they became vulnerable to shrinking habitats and eroding traditional occupations which has threatened their survival.
Today, PVTGs living in interior pockets and inaccessible places, are becoming vulnerable to hunger/starvation, malnutrition and ill-health. Some of them are even on the verge of extinction. They include Shompens, Jarawas, Sentinelese of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; Bondos of Orissa, Cholanaickans of Kerala, the Abujhmarias of Chhattisgarh; and Birhors of Jharkhand.
Most of these groups are small in number, have not attained any significant level of social and economic progress and generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support. Priorities are, therefore, required to be accorded for their protection and development, and checking the declining trend of their population.
It is therefore absolutely necessary that plans for development of the PVTGs and their protection be prepared on certain identifiable, verifiable and quantifiable criteria; particularly with respect to the nature, extent and degree of vulnerabilities from which they suffer. Once the nature of and extent of vulnerability is known, then it would be important to develop criteria for interventions to reduce vulnerability among the PVTGs.

Reducing and vanishing vulnerability

Notions of vulnerability play an increasingly important role in shaping policies and interventions targeted at improving or intervening in the lives of those identified as ‘in need’. In times of economic austerity and limited welfare resources, ideas about ‘vulnerability’ and the prioritization of ‘vulnerable groups’ take on further significance in social policy. 
‘Vulnerability’ is rarely centre stage in policy, but bringing it to the fore in analysis of welfare provision reveals important assumptions and trends. On first consideration, the concept of ‘vulnerability’ seems to resonate strongly with the pursuit of social justice. Vulnerability is a term used to describe exposure to hazards and shocks. People are more vulnerable if they are more likely to be badly affected by events outside their control.
The ability to foresee, cope with, resist, and recover from the effects of a hazard is influenced by a person's or group's traits as well as their environment. It involves a combination of factors that determine the degree to which someone’s life, livelihood, property and other assets are put at risk by a discrete and identifiable event (or series or cascade of such events) in nature and society.
The VAM Unit, World Food Programme (2002) developed the conceptual framework for understanding vulnerability and explained that:
Vulnerability = Exposure to Hazards + Ability to Cope
In this framework, exposure to hazards is seen as a community-level issue experienced by all households, whereas coping ability varies from household to household. The determinants of coping capacity include levels of assets, income, and consumption, and the ability to diversify sources of income and consumption to mitigate the effects of the risk that households face, basic access to resources and infrastructure is an important determinant of coping capacity. The ability to diversify incomes and consumption depends largely on access to labour markets, markets for food, efficient credit markets, and access to community and public support (safety net) services. 
Understanding households coping vulnerability is not a commonly accepted concept. The concept has interlinks with the notion of social exclusion, poverty, discrimination and marginalization. In fact, vulnerability is obscure as a stand-alone concept and only serves a practical purpose once we ask the question, vulnerability to what? 
The tendency in answering this question is to isolate a single cause of vulnerability. However, new research findings help us in moving away from this approach to a more systemic perspective, in recognition of the complexity of vulnerability and the interaction of various causes and effects of vulnerability.

Indexing vulnerability

Vulnerability among the PVTGs may be examined from five dimensions namely, 
  1. economic, 
  2. educational, 
  3. demographic, 
  4. spatial, and 
  5. environmental. 
In order to measure vulnerabilities of the PVTGs with respect to each of these dimensions, we need to identify verifiable and measurable indicators for each dimension. 
After collection of primary data on each indicator of different dimensions, values may be assigned to each indicator and then compared with the actual values secured from field investigations. Subsequently vulnerability scores can be derived from the average scores. Similarly, for calculating the vulnerability index among the PVTGs, values may be assigned to each indicator between 1.00 to 0.1 and actual value calculated for the various indicators by adopting the below given formula:
By analyzing the vulnerability index in all the five dimensions and indicators, it would be possible to appreciate the relative severity of the factors that contribute towards vulnerability. It is also important to understand that higher the value of vulnerability index, the greater would be the case for making such interventions that contribute towards reduction of the vulnerabilities of the PVTG in all dimensions. In a research study conducted by the author among the 8 PVTGs of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana States, vulnerability index and ranks were assessed using the above formula (Table 1).

Vulnerability intervention index

In the light of the understanding of the various dimensions of vulnerabilities among the studied PVTGs, the author suggested essentially three areas of interventions. They are:
  • Interventions for bringing about economic transformation;
  • Interventions for educational development; and
  • Interventions in the demographic dimension to ensure increase in the population of the PVTGs.
In order to capture the areas of interventions in each of the above mentioned dimensions, the author identified 10 key areas of interventions in each of the three dimensions namely, economic, educational and demographic. Then values were assigned to each of the 10 areas in order of priority, and then scores calculated. Further, based on the values, we also calculated the vulnerability intervention index. Assigning Maximum = 1.00 minimum=0.1 values, the author used the below given formulae for calculating the vulnerability intervention score.
The normalization is given by:
Vulnerability intervention score for economic transformation was highest among the Chenchu (74) PVTG while it was lowest for the Konda Reddy PVTG (43). Similarly, in the context of vulnerability score for the educational development of the PVTGs, it was highest (64) among the Chenchu PVTG and lowest (44) among the Gadaba PVTG. 
Likewise, one can see that the vulnerability intervention score in the demographic domain was again highest among the Chenchu (64) and lowest among the Konda Reddy (41). Once can calculate the total vulnerability score with respect to all the three dimensions for all the eight studied PVTGs, it would be seen from the Table 2 that it is highest (205) among the Chenchu PVTG and lowest among the Konda Reddi (135).
The total vulnerability intervention score with respect to all the three dimensions for all the eight studied PVTGs may be seen in Table 3 and it would be seen that it is highest (205) among the Chenchu PVTG and lowest among the Konda Reddi (135).
Vulnerability intervention score and the vulnerability intervention index are very good indicators of the nature and priority areas of interventions that are required to be undertaken with respect to different PVTGs in the different dimensions of their socio-economic living conditions.

Summing up

In order to ensure transformation of the members of the PVTGs from a stage marked by pre-agricultural level of technology to a stage of settled cultivation, it is necessary that the policy planners take a solemn pledge to protect PVTGs’ livelihoods, cultural identity and habitats while facilitating their access to development programmes and services and to improve their quality of life. 
This pledge can be seen honoured only when we decide to make the following calibrated interventions in the various dimensions of the vulnerabilities which afflict the  PVTGs:
  • Create enabling environment to respect, protect, and fulfill PVTGs' rights
  • Formulate sustainable livelihood strategies for the PVTGs
  • Participatory development approach be followed
  • Evolve effective service delivery mechanism for the development of the PVTGs
  • Separate Census for the PVTGs should be undertaken
  • Control factors that contribute to decline in the population of the (PVTGs).
  • Launch special drive to improve educational status of the PVTGs
  • Monitoring of socio-economic transformation
  • Use the Vulnerability Index and Vulnerability Intervention Index as the basis for funding Development of the PVTGs
  • Vulnerability Index should be made the basis for delisting some of the PVTGs from the PVTG category/status
  • Since spatial and environmental dimensions are crucial determinants of vulnerability, it is important that the tribes be declared as PVTG after taking into consideration the spatial and environmental dimensions of their habitat.
*Was associated with the National Institute of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR), Hyderabad


NK Vaid said…
Great Ranju Bhai, but when will Anthropologists come out with enforceable recommendations? Besides, why Anthropologists do not take up action anthropology projects to undo the historical wrongs against PVTGs? You should also have added here what can they do.
NK Vaid


'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Corporatizing Indian agriculture 'to enhance' farmer efficiency, market competitiveness

By Shashank Shukla*  Today, amidst the ongoing farmers' protest, one of the key demands raised is for India to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Let us delve into the feasibility of such a move and explore its historical context within India's globalization trajectory.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there. 

Livelihood issues return to national agenda ahead of LS polls: SKM on Bharat Bandh

Counterview Desk  Top farmers' network, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has claimed big success of Grameen Bharat Bandh and industrial /sectoral strikes, stating, the “struggle reflected anger of farmers, workers and rural people across India”, adding, the move on February 16 succeeded in bringing back peoples’ livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the general election to the Lok Sabha.