Scheduled Tribes in India – Definition, Criteria, and Full List

Scheduled Tribes in IndiaScheduled Tribes: Who are they?

The framers of the Constitution took note of the fact that certain communities in India were suffering from extreme social, educational and economic backwardness.

They needed special consideration for safeguarding their interests and for their socio-economic development.

These communities were notified as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as per provisions contained in Clause 1 of Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution respectively.

What is a tribe?

The tribes are the autochthonous or native people of the land who are believed to be the earliest settlers in the Indian Peninsula. They are generally called Adivasis, implying original inhabitants.

The ancient and medieval literature mention a large number of tribes living in India.

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India: A melting pot of races and tribes

India has one of the largest and diverse tribal populations in the world.

The tribal population in India according to the 2011 census is 104 million or 8.6% of the total population.

The majority of the scholars believe that earlier human races migrated to India from Africa, the Mediterranean, West Asia and Central Asia.

Since India was accommodative of various peoples and tribes, literary writers and scholars consider India as the cradle land for a number of human races.

Definition of Scheduled Tribe

The term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ first appeared in the Constitution of India.

Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India defined scheduled tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution”.

Article 342 prescribes the procedure to be followed in the matter of specification of scheduled tribes.

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Article 342

The President may, with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a state, after consultation with the Governor thereof by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall, for the purposes of this constitution, is deemed to be scheduled tribes in relation to that state or Union Territory, as the case may be.

Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled tribes specified in a notification issued under clause(1) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community, but save as aforesaid, a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.

Thus, the first specification of Scheduled Tribes in relation to a particular State/ Union Territory is by a notified order of the President, after consultation with the State governments concerned. These orders can be modified subsequently only through an Act of Parliament.

Why the name “Scheduled Tribes”?

The tribal communities in India have been recognized by the Indian Constitution under ‘Schedule 5’ of the constitution. Hence the tribes recognized by the Constitution are known as ‘Scheduled Tribes’.

Article 366 (25) defined scheduled tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution”.

Specification of a community as Scheduled Tribes (ST)

The criterion followed for specification of a community, as scheduled tribes are indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness.

This criterion is not spelt out in the Constitution but has become well established.

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Growth of Scheduled Tribes in India


Total population of Scheduled Tribes in lakhs

Percentage of Scheduled Tribes to Total Population






















*Excluding Assam

**Excluding Jammu and Kashmir

State/Union Territory-wise list of Scheduled Tribes in India

Article 342 provides for listing of scheduled tribes State/Union Territory wise and not on an all India basis.

Click the below link to know the latest list of scheduled tribes in India.

List of Scheduled Tribes in India (PDF)

PS: If you just need an overview of the major tribes, check another post of ClearIAS about Major Tribes in India.

Classification of  Tribes in India

Though the official classification of Scheduled Tribes is state-wise, for the academic purpose some scholars have classified Scheduled Tribes in India on the basis of Ethnicity and Location.

(B) Classification of Tribes based on Ethnicity (Race)

B.S. Guha, former director of ASI, presented a scientific classification in 1944. He identified 6 main races which include,

  1. The Negritos
  2. The Proto-Australoids
  3. Mongoloids
  4. The Mediterranean
  5. The Western Brachycephals
  6. The Nordics

Ethnic group



The Negritos

•        Earliest inhabitants of the Indian peninsula.

•        Short stature (150cm), pepper corn hair, broad flat nose, protruding jaws, small chin, black skin colour, weak hands and long arms

Kadars, Irulars and Puliyans living in the hills and forests of the Peninsula. The Onne, the Great Andamanese, the Sentinels and the Jarawas of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Proto- Austroloid

•        They probably came to India soon after the Negritos.

•        Black skin colour, wavy to curly hair, broad and flat nose, fleshy and everted lips, short stature and prognathous jaw.

Ved, Chenchu, Munda, Santhal,

Kutumba, Kol, Bhil, Yaruba of Indian hilly and forested tracts.


·         Original homeland was China and Mongolia. Migrated to India through the passes in the Northern and Eastern Mountains.

·         Brown skin colour, less body and facial hairs, broad face, slanting eyes and medium stature.

Sub-categorized into 2 parts.

1.      Palaeo Mongoloids – Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur.

2.      Tibeto Mongoloids– Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan and Ladakh.

The Mediterranean

·         They had come from South-west Asia in three stages during the third and the second millennium B.C.

·         They had a fairly high level of civilization and generally known as Dravidians.

Sub-categorized into 2 parts.

1.       Kolarians – speak a dialect called Mundari. Tribes of Chota Nagpur plateau-like Mundas and Santhal.

2.      Dravidian proper – speak dialects of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Gonds, Kondhs and other tribes of Centre Vindhyachal and Deccan Plateau region.

The Western Brachycephals          

•        Short to medium stature, broad forehead and bulging nose, facial hairs, strong body build up and fair complexion.

Found in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The Nordics

•        Last to come to India from the Northwest around the second millennium B.C.

•        Long stature, long forehead and face, straight and high nose, fair to the wheatish complexion, golden hair, blue eyes, rear head slightly pronounced.

Predominant type in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

They constitute the upper caste strata of the society in northern India.

(B) Classification of Tribes based on Location

The tribal population of India is spread all over the country. However, in Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, Goa and Puducherry there exist very little tribal population. The rest of the states and union territories possess a fairly good tribal population. Madhya Pradesh registered the largest number of tribes. Based on the location they are divided into 4 zones.

  1. Zone 1: Northern and North-Eastern
  2. Zone 2: Central
  3. Zone 3:South-Western
  4. Zone 4: Scattered Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar

Zone 1: Northern and North-Eastern.

In the mountain valleys and other areas of North-East, Indian tribes largely belong to Mongolian social stock. It covers Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram, Eastern Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Tarai areas of Uttar Pradesh and the mountainous West Bengal.

  • Assam – Paro-Barokachari, Miri and Mizo.
  • Manipur- Anal, Kabui, Gangte, Zarao, Moyan-Mansang.
  • Meghalaya- Khasis, Garos and Jaintias.
  • Mizoram- Mizos, Pawis_and Lakhers.
  • Nagaland – A tribal state, inhabited by Nagas
  • Himachal Pradesh- Gaddi, Kinner, Pangwal, Lahuli
  • Uttar Pradesh- Jaunsari, Bhotia, and Raji tribes.
  • Bhotias are a late introduction in the scheduled tribes following the setback they suffered after the Indo-China war.
  • Tarai Bhabar tract – Tharu and Buxa tribes.

Zone II: Central

They belong to Proto-Australoid group.

In the Chhotanagpur Plateau, along the dividing line between peninsular India and Indo-Gangetic basin, live many tribal communities like the Bhumij, Gond, Ho, Oraon, Munda, Santhal, Bhil, etc. This group occupy the mountain belt between Narbada and the Godavari – the central barrier that divides the north from the Peninsular India has provided a shelter for these tribes from very ancient times.

  • Bihar – Oraon, Munda, Chero, Parchaiya, Santhal_and Asuras
  • Rajasthan-Banjaras, Moghias and Sathiyas
  • Gujarat – Bhil
  • Maharashtra- Anal, Chiru and Konkanas
  • Madhya Pradesh – Muria, Dorla and Bhil.
  • West Bengal and Orissa
  • West Bengal: Mala and Savara tribes.
  • Odisha: Bhuiya, Baiga, Dharua, Gaaro, Ho, Koli and Lodha.

(Note- Baiga means a sorcerer or medicine man.)

Zone III: South-Western

In the hills and converging line of the Western Ghats live the Chenchus, Irulas, Kadars, Ketas, Kurumbas, Jedas, etc. having Negrito, Caucasoid, and proto-Australoid features. This group is chiefly concentrated in the southern-most parts of the Western Ghats stretching from Vindhyas to Cape Comorin.

  • Andhra Pradesh- Chenchus_and Lambadi
  • Karnataka – Koragas, Kuruba
  • Kerala – Koragas

Zone IV: Scattered Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar

The aborigines of the Andaman Islands may be described as a race by themselves, and can be divided into two groups, i.e.,


  1. Negrito -Andamanese, the Onges and the Sentinelese.This group is found in the Andaman group of Islands
  2. Mongoloid- Inhabitants of Nicobar group of islands, i.e., the Shorn Pens and the Nicobarese.
  • Jarawa – In the south, middle and north Andamans.
  • Onge – Inhabit the little Andaman and Rutland island
  • Sentinelese – found in Sentinel island.
  • Shorn Pens – confined along the eastern and south-eastern coast of Great Nicobar island. They are also reported from the banks of Dagmar, Alexandra and Galathoa rivers respectively.
  • Nicobarese (Holchu) – inhabiting these small islands are highly unevenly distributed and only in the two islands, the Car Nicobar and Chowra.

Debate: Whether to preserve tribal culture or encourage their change?

Scheduled Tribes live in hilly, forested and semi-arid areas generally backward in terms of social and economic development and are considered negative areas from the point of view of supporting large population and economic growth. Since many tribal areas are rich in mineral and forest resources these have attracted non-tribal groups skilled in superior technology for exploitation. This has caused damage to tribal ecology and culture and generated another social tension. In fact, there is a great deal of debate whether to preserve tribal culture and its environs or to encourage their change keeping in mind the need of the hour.

Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)

The Dhebar Commission (1973) created a separate category “Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs)” which was renamed in 2006 as “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

PVTGs are more vulnerable among the tribal groups. In India, the tribal population makes up 8.6% of the total population.75 tribal groups have been categorized by the Ministry of Home Affairs as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG)s. PVTGs reside in 18 States and UT of A&N Islands.

They have a declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and are economically backward. They generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support. Kondareddis in AP and Irulas in Tamil Nadu are classified as PVTG.

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) was established by amending Article 338 and inserting a new Article 338A in the Constitution through the Constitution (89th Amendment) Act, 2003. By this amendment, the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was replaced by two separate Commissions namely- (i) the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), and (ii) the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) w.e.f. 19 February 2004.

Composition of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and three other Members. At least one other Member shall be appointed from amongst women. The Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the Commission are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal. The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members shall hold office for a term of three years from the date on which he/ she assumes such office. The Chairperson has been given the rank of Union Cabinet Minister, and the Vice-Chairperson that of a Minister of State and other Members have the ranks of a Secretary to the Government of India

Duties of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

The Duties assigned to the Commission under 338A(5) are as given below:

  • (a)    To investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards;
  • (b)    To inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation  of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes;
  • (c)    To participate and advise in the planning process of socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State;
  • (d)    To present to the President, annually and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reports upon the working of those safeguards.
  • (e)    To make in such reports, recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any State for effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes, and
  • (f)    To discharge such other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes as the President may, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specify.

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been assigned certain additional functions vide the Ministry of Tribal Affairs Notification dated 23.8.2005 in the exercise of the powers conferred by sub-clause (f) of Clause (5) of Article 338A. These duties relate to measures to be taken:

  • to confer ownership rights in respect of minor forest produce to STs living in forest areas.
  • to safeguard the rights of the tribal communities over mineral resources,  water resources etc. as laid down by law.
  • to plug loopholes and to work more viable livelihood strategies.
  • to improve the efficacy of relief and rehabilitation measures for tribal groups displaced by development projects.
  • to prevent alienation of tribal people from land and to effectively rehabilitate such people in whose case alienation has already taken place.
  • to elicit maximum cooperation and involvement of tribal communities for protecting forests and undertaking social afforestation.
  • to ensure full implementation   of the provision of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled   Areas) Act, 1996
  • to reduce and ultimately eliminate the practice of shifting cultivation by tribal that leads to their continuous disempowerment and degradation of land and the environment.

Constitutional Support for Scheduled Tribes

Reservation is provided in educational institutions as well as jobs for Scheduled Tribes (ST) – Article 15 (4) and Article 16 (4).

Also, various laws are passed by the Indian Parliament for the protection of the life and livelihood of STs.

Bibliographical Sources:

  1. Census of India 2001
  2. Census of India 2011
  3. NCERT Human and Economic Geography

Previous Years Questions related to Scheduled Tribes in UPSC CSE:


Consider the following statements about Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in India:

  1. PVTGs reside in 18 States and one Union Territory.
  2. A stagnant or declining population is one of the criteria for determining PVTG status.
  3. There are 95 PVTGs officially notified in the country so far.
  4. Irular and Konda Reddi tribes are included in the list of PVTGs.

Which of the statements given above are correct?

  1. a) 1, 2 and 3
  2. b) 2, 3 and 4
  3. c) 1, 2 and 4
  4. d) 1, 3 and 4

Tip: By eliminating option 3, one can easily arrive at the correct answer. 75 Tribal Groups have been categorized by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs as PVTGs.


Every year, a month-long ecologically important campaign/festival is held during which certain communities/ tribes plant saplings of fruit-bearing trees. Which of the following are such communities/ tribes?

  1. a) Bhutia and Lepcha
  2. b) Gond and Korku
  3. c) Irula and Toda
  4. d) Sahariya and Agariya

Tip: Gond and Korku Tribes of Madhya Pradesh plant fruit tree saplings on Hari Ji-roti Festival.


With reference to the ‘Changpa’ community of India, consider the following statement:

  1. They live mainly in the State of Uttarakhand.
  2. They rear the Pashmina goats that yield fine wool.
  3. They are kept in the category of Scheduled Tribes.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. a) 1 only
  2. b) 2 and 3 only
  3. c) 3 only
  4. d) 1, 2 and 3

Tip: Changpa is a semi-nomadic Tibetan ethnic group of the Ladakh region, included in Scheduled Tribes. They rear Pashmina goats that yield fine wool.

Article by Ravi Rawat

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