Social Identity

The state of Adivasi livelihoods after 75 years of planned development

  • Blog Post Date 15 February, 2023
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Despite efforts to ensure their wellbeing, the Adivasi community remains one of the most deprived in India. In this post, Chaudhuri and Ghosh discuss the findings of a study surveying the livelihood status of the Adivasi population in Jharkhand and Odisha. Using personal interviews, focus group discussions and household surveys, they find that Adivasis lag behind the rest of the country in not only household income, but also nutritional outcomes, access to roads and public transport, literacy and landholdings. 

People belonging to the administrative category of ‘Scheduled Tribes’, or Adivasis, living in the central Indian belt are one of the most marginalised communities in the country (Prasad 2016). Since independence, government and non-government agencies have been working towards ensuring the wellbeing of Adivasis. Despite this, development has escaped them. Various reasons account for this, including continuous dispossession and displacement (Fernandes and Thakural 1989). At the same time, mainstream development policies and programmes have been an imposition from above, as they have been implemented without considering either the distinct economic, social and cultural features of Adivasis, or the ecological zones they inhabit. 

Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), a pan-India non-profit, conducted a study to understand the status of livelihoods among the Adivasi population of two tribal-dominated states – Jharkhand and Odisha. 

Investigation for this study was done at three levels: i) personal interviews of intellectuals, community leaders, activists and academics, mostly belonging to Adivasi communities, ii) focus group discussions with villagers, and iii) household-level surveys. 

Sample selection

Around 5000 Adivasi (both Major Tribal groups1 and Particularly Vulnerable Tribal groups2) households were drawn from randomly selected Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP)3 blocks. These random household samples were drawn from 240 villages across eight districts (out of 15 districts with ITDP blocks) in Jharkhand, and eight districts (out of 13 districts with ITDP blocks) in Odisha. 

The 240 villages across 16 districts were identified in proportion to population. A maximum of five villages per block (with more than 30 Adivasi households) were identified for the survey, with a village with an ST population equal to or more than 70% considered as an Adivasi village. 

The entire data collection exercise was conducted during March-April 2021 in Jharkhand, and April-May 2021 in Odisha. The household survey included 4,994 households across 53 blocks from 16 districts in Jharkhand and Odisha; of these, 4,135 were Adivasi households and 859 were non-Adivasi households. Focus group discussions were conducted in 28 villages, and 40 leading Adivasi and non-Adivasi resource persons knowledgeable in the livelihood issues faced by the Adivasi community were interviewed in-depth

Household income of Adivasi households

Household income was calculated comprising two components: the first is actual cash income earned during the year from farm produce, wages received, pension, income from businesses, etc. credited in bank accounts. The second component is the imputed value of goods produced or collected, but consumed at home. Income figures are net out-of-pocket costs. The cost of applied family labour or homegrown inputs (farmyard manure, animal draught power) has not been netted in the gross sales proceeds. Net income from agriculture products from own farming has been counted as farm income whereas income from farm labour has been counted as wage. 

For income from crops, Minimum Support Prices (MSP) from the Government of India for 2020-21 were considered. Where MSP was not available, the farm income was calculated using the sell value (aggregated across households) and sell quantity (aggregated across households). Where such calculation was not possible, but a price estimate was required to calculate the imputed consumption value, reasonable assumptions were used. Income from vegetables was calculated using the ratio of aggregated sell value and aggregated sell quantities. In some cases, all the production of a vegetable in that season across the households were used for own consumption. In such cases, reasonable assumptions were made to get the price estimate required for imputed value calculation. 

Where information was not available on the prices and own consumption was reported, Rs. 1000 per quintal was used as an estimate. Very minor and incidental crops, the produce of which was entirely consumed at home, and where no estimate of quantity was available were not included in the income calculation. Such underestimation has happened for only a handful of households. 

The findings were stark– in Jharkhand, the average annual income of Adivasi households is Rs. 75,378; in Odisha, it is Rs. 61,263. When compared with the average income of agriculture households in India from 2018-19 of Rs. 122,616, it presents a grim picture of the Adivasi communities of Jharkhand and Odisha (NSO, 2021). In this region, Adivasi households earn 60% or less than the average household income of agricultural households in rural India.

Other findings

The study finds an overwhelming deprivation of Adivasis in terms of not only income, but also other livelihood outcomes such as food security and nutrition status of children, and factors such as access to public service, education and landholding that influence their livelihood outcomes. 

According to a 2022 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are nearly 224.3 million undernourished people in India, which is roughly 16% of the country’s total population. A 2021 report by PRADAN shows that the situation is much worse in the Adivasi region of Jharkhand and Odisha – 53% of Adivasi households in Jharkhand and 55% of Adivasi households in Odisha are food-insecure to varying degrees. Out of this, 25% in Jharkhand and 12% in Odisha were found to be severely food insecure. Additionally, a staggering 50% of children under-5 years in Adivasi households in both states have head circumferences outside the 3-97 percentile, indicating that they are malnourished.

Factors contributing to poor livelihood outcomes

Connectivity in terms of roads and telecommunication is a crucial factor that influences livelihoods. The 2021 PRADAN report shows that 74% of Adivasi villages in Jharkhand and 72% of Adivasi villages in Odisha are connected by all-weather roads. Of these, roads are motorable in only 63% of villages in Jharkhand and 80% of villages in Odisha,, which means that 53% of Adivasi villages in Jharkhand and 42% of Adivasi villages in Odisha are not connected by motorable roads. This figure is much higher than the national average – a survey conducted by Mission Antyodaya in 2019 found that only 30% of villages in the country were not connected by motorable roads.

The situation of public transport is also worse in Adivasi villages than the rest of the country. In Jharkhand and Odisha, only 46% and 57% of villages, respectively, are linked to their block headquarters through public transport. Mobile network was found to be available for only around 70% of Adivasi villages in both states.

Education is another important factor that influences livelihood outcomes. The data on literacy shows that in 53% of Adivasi households in Jharkhand and 58.6% in Odisha, the head of the household had no school education. Data on female members of the Adivasi households also shows that 43.7% in Jharkhand and 50.3% in Odisha had no school education. A functional literacy test on reading and writing simple text and the ability to do simple arithmetic was conducted with the respondents and their spouses from the sampled households. The test results showed that around 45% of men and 63% of women from Adivasi households in Jharkhand and in Odisha 55% of men and 75% of women from Adivasi households can’t read or write at all.

This data cannot be compared with the national literacy rate, which considers all members of the household aged seven or above. By that estimation, The 2011 Census shows the overall literacy rate for the country to be 72.98%, with female and male literacy rates of 64.63% and 80.9%, respectively. However, even in that case, one can infer that the Adivasi regions in Jharkhand and Odisha are far behind the national average in terms of literacy rate.

Small landholding size is another major contributor to the poor livelihood outcomes of Adivasis. As many as 89% of respondents from Adivasi households in both Jharkhand and Odisha reported landholdings that classify them as marginal farmers or landless. In comparison, at the national level, only 2.6% of agricultural households were landless and 70.4% were marginal holdersin 2018-19, clearly indicating that the land ownership of the Adivasis in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand is quite low (NSO, 2021).

Although more than 90% of the families in both states reported farming as the major source of their livelihood, wages are the highest contributor to the total household income (42%) in the case of Jharkhand, followed by agriculture (34%). In Odisha, agriculture is the highest source (38%) followed by wage income. Wage work, non-farm activities, remittances and pensions together surpass on-farm activities as a major source of income for Adivasis in Odisha and Jharkhand.


Despite the relentless efforts of the government and non-government organisations, Adivasis seem to be lagging in almost all aspects of development, and their economic status remains lower than other social groups. Unfortunately, 75 years of planned development since independence have not narrowed the gap between Adivasis and other groups.


  1. Major Tribal groups are tribal groups who have, by and large, practised settled agriculture. In most cases, they have been given the status of Scheduled Tribes (ST). However, both are not coterminous – ST status of a group is decided by the state governments. As a result, a group with ST status in one state may not have ST status in other states. For example, Gonds are considered ST in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh but not in Uttar Pradesh-- where they are considered Scheduled Castes.
  2. Particularly Vulnerable Tribal groups (PVTG) was a category created in 1973 by the Dhebar Commission for tribal groups that can be identified by: (i) their use of pre-agricultural level of technology (ii) low level of literacy (iii) economic backwardness and (iv) declining or stagnant population. They are groups who are more likely to be artisans or practise shifting cultivation, unlike the major tribal groups who practise settled agriculture. PVTG status has been given to most of these groups by the state governments, and 75 PVTGs have been identified in the country. 
  3. An Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) block is an area the size of one or more Development Blocks, in which the ST population is 50% or more of the total population of such blocks. The Programme on Integrated Tribal Development Projects (ITDP) under the Tribal Sub-Plan, which is now called the Scheduled Tribe Component, has been implemented since the Fifth Five Year Plan, with specific objectives of reducing poverty, improving the educational status and eliminating exploitation of tribal families. 
  4. According to the 77th NSS survey, an agricultural household was defined as a household receiving more than Rs.4,000 as value of produce from agricultural activities, and having at least one member self-employed in agriculture, either in the principal status or in subsidiary status, during the last 365 days. Households with no land or with ownership holdings of area less than or equal to 0.002 hectares are considered as ‘landless’, while households with ownership holdings of area less than 1 hectares are considered to be ‘marginal farmers’.

Further Reading

  • Food and Agriculture Organization (2022), ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022’, FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO.
  • Fernandes, W and EG Thakural (1989), Development, Displacement and Rehabilitation, Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.
  • Ghosh, Parijat, Dibyendu Chaudhuri and Debasish Biswas (2020), “Why are Women’s Self-help Groups on the Periphery of Adivasi Movements in India? Insights from Practitioners”, Journal of International Women's Studies, 21(1): 185-191. Available here.
  • Ministry of Tribal Affairs (2014), ‘Report of the high level committee on socio-economic, health and education status of tribal communities in India’, Government of India. Available here.
  • National Statistical Office (2021), ‘Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households and Land and Livestock Holdings of Households in Rural India, 2019’, NSS Report No. 587-77/33.1/1, Government of India.
  • Prasad, A (2016), ‘‘Adivasis' and the Trajectories of Political Mobilization in Contemporary India’, in M Radhakrishna (ed.), First Citizens.
  • Professional Assistance for Development Action (2022), ‘Status of Adivasi Livelihoods 2021’, PRADAN.

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