The tribal population in India is 84.51 million, which constitutes 8.14% of tribal population. There are about 449 tribes and sub tribes in different parts of India. Half of India’s tribal people live in the forests and forest fringes and their economy is linked with the forests. Tamilnadu has 6,51,321 tribal population as per 2001 census which constitutes 1.02% of the total population. There are 36 tribes and sub tribes in Tamilnadu. Literacy rate of the population is 27.9%. Most of the tribals in Tamilnadu are cultivators, agriculture labourers or dependent on forests for their livelihood. There are six primitive tribes in Tamilnadu. The tribal groups in Tamilnadu are distributed in almost all the districts and they have contributed significantly in the management of the forests.
The need of the hour for Tribal Development is to reduce the gap between the Tribal and non-tribal population wiht respect to economic, educational and social status, The objective is to integrate the Tribals into the main stream of economic and social development. Out of the 36 Scheduled Tribe communities in the state, 6 Tribal Communities (ie) Toda, Kota, Kurumbas, Irulur, Paniyan and Kattunayakan have been identified as Primitive Tribal. The area where the population of Scheduled Tribes exceeds 50% of the total population is declared as Integrated Tribal Development Programme area.
The tribal communities live inside the Reserved Forests, in the vicinity in fringes and outside and are also called ‘forest dwellers’. Their socio-cultural life is centered on nature. Degradation of forests have reduced the resource availability and the employment opportunities for tribals and has also affected the food availability, livelihood options and the quality of life of the tribals. In this State, the Forest Department has taken many initiatives through programs like ITDP, HADP, WGDP, TAP for tribal development and has been, a Department closely associated in tribal welfare activities.
There is need to understand in greater detail the present relationship and dependency of tribals with forests and their change in life styles due to ecological disturbances and generate more information.