Chhattisgarh battles high poverty levels as creation of state 'for tribals' does little to benefit community

Raipur: A state supposedly meant for tribals, by tribals and of tribals, created by the BJP and ruled by it since 2003, is today showing record poverty levels among the tribals who make up one-third of the state’s population. While the state’s per capita income increased by 14 percent during 2012-2017, a higher percentage of people are now below the poverty line, with most of the new additions to this group hailing from the tribal communities, even as scheme after the scheme is rolled out by the government supposedly for their benefit.

Inevitably, in the run-up to the Assembly polls due towards the end of the year, the issue of poverty and growth has become a political slugfest between the BJP and the Opposition parties led by the Congress. Nand Kashyap of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, who works in tribal areas, says that the government has marginalised the tribal population of the state leading to a rise in their poverty levels. “The income of a few people has increased due to the establishment of water, forest and land rights of tribals”, said Kashyap. “But the tribal community, on the whole, is living on the margins. In the tribal areas where we work, we've observed that at least 20 to 22 percent of the tribal population has been displaced and they're working as labourers in cities. This has resulted in their economic downfall.”

Shrichand Sundrani, MLA and BJP spokesperson, counters this by saying, "Economists should see the per capita income figures. When our government was formed in 2003, the state’s per capita income was less than Rs 10,000. Today, it is Rs 91,772. What else can better represent the scale of development than this figure?”

 Chhattisgarh battles high poverty levels as creation of state for tribals does little to benefit community

Raman Singh at a rally. Image: Neeraj Agarwal

Tiny share of forest produce

State Congress party president and MLA Bhupesh Baghel says, “The state government records 58.8 lakh families to be poor and provides them rice at Rs 1 per kg”. Baghel adds that with an average of four people in a family, the government itself considers 2.36 crore people out of the total population of 2.55 crore (according to Census 2011; projected to be 2.88 crore in 2017) in the state as poor. “This figure surpasses all the poverty figures," Baghel says.

Available figures on income from the forest produce that the tribals depend on in relation to the state’s total revenue levels are suggestive. Of the approximately 19,720 villages in the state, 11,185 villages are located on the outskirts of the forests which constitute the main source of income for the largely tribal people living in these villages. The state’s total income in 2016-2017 from forest produce, especially timber and the like was Rs 7,789.45 crore, out of which the revenue from forest produce procured from the tribal communities was Rs 2,000 crore, or a little over a quarter of total income from forests. But this is just 0.69 percent of the state’s gross product revenue of Rs 2.9 lakh crores. And this huge disparity in the share of revenue of the tribal’s forest produce and the distribution of that revenue reflects in their poor income levels. One important factor is that about 74 percent of the income from forests comes from timber, in which tribals have no significant contribution.

Estimates outdated, says Jean Dreze

Political rhetoric apart, experts admit that poverty remains a major problem despite some notable achievements on the development front. Economist JL Bharadwaj, member of the Planning Commission task force in Chhattisgarh, says that according to SD Tendulkar Committee, under the 68th cycle of the National Sample Survey, 39.93 percent of the population were below the poverty line in 2011-12, the highest among all the states in the country. But according to the revised estimate by the Rangarajan Committee, this figure went up to 47.9 percent, with rural areas showing an even higher poverty percentage of 49.2 percent as compared to 43.7 percent in urban areas. Bharadwaj elaborates, “According to this data, in the urban areas, 19.4 percent poor people are Scheduled Castes, 19.8 percent Scheduled Tribes, 50.7 percent OBC and 10.1 percent other classes. Tribals are the poorest in rural areas, whereas in urban areas, people of other backward classes are poorer.”

However, economist Jean Drèze disagrees with these figures. “The figures given in the Rangarajan Committee report are out of date, as are all estimates based on National Sample Survey data,” says Dreze. “The absence of recent poverty estimates is just one aspect of the current disarray of social statistics in India”. In any case, NSS-based poverty estimates are problematic because they ignore the implicit value of food transfers under the PDS, which is quite substantial in Chhattisgarh. However, in the absence of recent NSS-based poverty estimates, other indicators are available from the 4th National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4). For instance, a team of researchers from IIT-Roorkee have computed estimates of 'multidimensional poverty' based on NFHS-4 data. According to this study, 22 percent households in Chhattisgarh were poor in 2015-16, compared with a national average of 21 percent. The Bastar region has some of the country’s highest poverty levels.

Manish Kunjam, general secretary of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, does not find this statistic surprising. Having worked on tribal-related issues for more than 30 years and having been an MLA from the Bastar area, Kunjam says, “The government has started so many schemes in the name of tribals that no one even remembers their names. But most of these schemes have nothing to do with tribals. Till these schemes are not remodelled according to the needs of the tribals, their economic condition is not going to improve.”

(Neeraj Agrawal is a Raipur-based freelance writer and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 15:32:36 IST