MGNREGA – National Importance, Potential and Challenges

Adivasi Predicament

The tribes of India, who make up only 7% of its population have perhaps taken the brunt of such exclusion and tribal communities occupy the lowest rungs of deprivation. As per the NFHS-3, under five mortality rates, child malnourishment and anaemia in women is higher among shceduled tribes as compared to scheduled castes and other social groups. In absolute terms, the number of people below the poverty line declined between 1993-94 and 1999-2000 for all other groups except the Scheduled Tribes (ST). In terms of the Head Count Ratio and the Poverty Gap Index, both indicators again show significant declines in the case of other groups but marginal decreases only among the STs. The disparity can also be seen in the average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) by different social groups as per the National Sample Survey’s Report No.514 of 2007. The average MPCE of all classes of households was 1.37 times that of the scheduled tribes in the 55th round of NSS. This ratio further rose to 1.47 times in the 61st round, indicating that the MPCE levels of tribal households have increased at a slower rate compared to the MPCE of all classes of households.

Selected Human Development Indicators Across Social Groups

Adult Literacy Rates, 2001 1
 Male  Female
Scheduled Tribe 59 35
Scheduled Caste 67 42
Others 45 58
Level of Education (Females), 2005-062
 No Education  <5 Years of Schooling
Scheduled Tribe  61.7 8.7
Scheduled Caste  50.9 8.4
Other Backward Castes  43.9 7.6
Others  25.6 7.8
Child Mortality Rates, 2005-06 2
IMR U5-MR
Scheduled Tribe 62.1 95.7
Scheduled Caste 66.4 88.1
Other Backward Castes 56.6 72.8
Others 48.9 59.2
Overall 57 74.3
Malnutrition, 2005-062 
Women Children
Scheduled Tribe 46.8 54.5
Scheduled Caste 41.1 47.9
Other Backward Castes 35.7 45.2
Others 29.4 33.7
Overall 35.6 42.6
Incidence of Anaemia, 2005-062
Women Children
Scheduled Tribe 68.5 76.8
Scheduled Caste 58.3 72.2
Other Backward Castes 54.4 70.3
Others 51.3 63.8
Overall 55.3 69.5

Sources 1. Census of India, 2001; 2.  National Family Health Survey – 3, National Summary Sheet, 2007

Poverty and distress are thus increasingly concentrated in the drylands of India and its hilly and tribal areas (Shah, et.al., 1998), which are also home to violent expressions of discontent. In the list of “170 most backward districts including 55 extremist affected districts” (Planning Commission, 2005), 118 are located in 5 big states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh (Shankar and Shah, 2009). At the other end of this spectrum are thousands of farmers continuing to commit suicide (Ghosh 2005). This is no ordinary crisis but one which reflects the complete breakdown of governance in large parts of the country (Shah, 2007). At the heart of this exclusion are two sub-themes. First, the drylands of India, which are home to more than half the workforce but whose share is only 18% of the GDP. The second sub-theme has been that the decentralization vision has been seriously hampered by an ineffective devolution of funds and functionaries to the PRIs.