New Delhi - Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in India, identified as the most vulnerable among the Scheduled Tribes, face contradictory statements from the Tribal Affairs Ministry. Despite the ministry providing data indicating a decline in PVTG populations from 2001 to 2011, Minister Arjun Munda asserted in the Rajya Sabha on December 6 that the numbers are not decreasing.
The Tribal Affairs Ministry had presented data to a Parliamentary panel last year, indicating a 38.5% decline in the populations of PVTGs in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands from 2001 to 2011. In 2001, the population of these groups was 17,11,669, but by 2011, it had decreased to 10,53,263.
During the Rajya Sabha session, BJP MP Rakesh Sinha raised concerns about the declining PVTG population and questioned the government's efforts to protect their culture and identity. In response, Minister Arjun Munda argued that no overall population trend is available for PVTGs since tribes other than Scheduled Tribes have not been counted separately since the 1951 Census. Despite this, he claimed that state-wise data from the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (ORGI) does not suggest a decrease in the population of these tribes.
The Minister also addressed the lack of data on children aged zero to 12 years in PVTG populations, a part of Mr. Sinha's question. He highlighted the Ministry's programs designed to preserve the identity and culture of these vulnerable communities.
Contradicting the minister's statement, the Tribal Affairs Ministry's documents, including the Annual Report for 2022-23, describe PVTGs as communities facing challenges such as a decrease in population, economic struggles, low education, and the use of outdated technology.
Data on the Ministry's website further supports a decline in PVTG populations, with notable decreases, such as a 97% decrease in West Bengal, a 62% fall in Gujarat, and a 47% drop in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana combined, among other states.
There are 75 PVTG groups in the nation. Each of the 75 PVTGs is small in number, culturally different from one another and lives in remote habitat with poor administrative and infrastructure back up. The PVTGs are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to loss of their customary habitats and the livelihood resources which sustained them due to non-recognition of their rights. This is leading to hunger/starvation, malnutrition and ill-health and erosion of traditional occupations, which is threatening their very survival. 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.
According to the National Advisory Council’s recommendation to the Tribal Ministry, the protection of their land and resources is central to the dignified survival of all tribal people. The report says, “Therefore as a priority, the rights of the PVTGs to their land and habitats must be recognized and respected. Other peoples' notions of development must not be imposed on PVTGs. It is essential that they must be able to determine and control the nature of development they have. The PVTGS are in need of special and undivided attention on priority for their protection and support in view of their fragile living conditions and prevailing socio-economic vulnerability and diminishing numbers.”