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Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996

  • 04 Aug 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

The Adivasi self-governance system has disappeared from most of the areas in Jharkhand.

  • During most of the time in history, most of the Adivasis (India's tribal communities) had their own federal governance system. However, the administrative systems during the colonial period and after independence affected the Adivasi governance system to a great extent.
  • The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 was supposed to uphold the traditional decision-making process.

Key Points

  • Case Study - Tribal Governance System of Jharkhand:
    • Jharkhand was carved out as the 28th state of India from the Southern part of Bihar in 2000.
      • This part was distinctively different from the northern part of Bihar in terms of geography and social composition.
    • It has 32 different tribes, including the nine Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG).
      • According to Census 2001, Santhal (34%), Oraon (19.6%), Munda (14.8%) and Ho (10.5%) are among the major tribes in terms of numbers.
    • The entire social system was organised into three functional levels across major tribal communities in the state.
      • The first one is at the village level; the second at the cluster of five-six village levels and the third at community levels.
    • These decision-making processes were considered people-centric and democratic, although women were mostly not allowed to participate in such processes.
    • They had their own system of governance, which was, unlike the caste system, non-hierarchical. Every tribal village had a village council as the basic unit for self-governance.
    • These forums used to act as the decision-making bodies for all matters related to administration, the Parliament and judiciary.
      • The administrative matters were related to maintenance of village commons (such as lands, forests and water bodies), labour sharing, agriculture activities, religious events and festivals, etc.
      • The parliamentary matters were related to upholding and interpreting norms and unwritten laws and traditional values.
      • The judiciary matters were related to managing conflict, disciplinary actions, etc guided by unwritten norms and values.
    • Gradual Collapse of the System: After the introduction of the Bihar Panchayat Raj System (BPRS) in 1947, these Adivasi traditional governance systems became weak.
      • BPRS was formed keeping the non-Adivasi areas in view.
      • As a result, due to the non-priority and neglect, the process of the traditional governance system was affected.
      • This was aggravated by industrialisation, displacement of Adivasis and urbanisation.
  • About Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996:
    • To promote local self-governance in rural India, the 73rd constitutional amendment was made in 1992.
    • Through this amendment, a three-tier Panchayati Raj Institution was made into a law.
      • However, its application to the scheduled and tribal areas under Article 243(M) was restricted.
    • After the Bhuria Committee recommendations in 1995, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 came into existence for ensuring tribal self-rule for people living in scheduled areas of India.
    • The PESA conferred the absolute powers to Gram Sabha, whereas state legislature has given an advisory role to ensure the proper functioning of Panchayats and Gram Sabhas.
      • The power delegated to Gram Sabha cannot be curtailed by a higher level, and there shall be independence throughout.
    • The PESA is considered to be the backbone of tribal legislation in India.
    • PESA recognises the traditional system of the decision-making process and stands for the peoples’ self-governance.
    • Following powers and functions have been provided to the Gram Sabhas:
      • Right to mandatory consultation in land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced persons.
      • Protection of traditional belief, the culture of the tribal communities
      • Ownership of minor forest products
      • Resolution of the local disputes
      • Prevention of land alienation
      • Management of village markets
      • Right to control production, distillation, and prohibition of liquor
      • Exercise of control over money-lending
      • Any other rights involving the Scheduled Tribes.
  • Issues Related to PESA:
    • The state governments are supposed to enact state laws for their Scheduled Areas in consonance with this national law.
      • This has resulted in the partially implemented PESA.
      • The partial implementation has worsened self-governance in Adivasi areas,l ike in Jharkhand.
    • Many experts have asserted that PESA did not deliver due to the lack of clarity, legal infirmity, bureaucratic apathy, absence of a political will, resistance to change in the hierarchy of power, and so on.
    • Social audits conducted across the state have also pointed out that in reality different developmental schemes were being approved on paper by Gram Sabha, without actually having any meeting for discussion and decision making.

India’s Tribal Policy

Way Forward

  • PESA, if it is implemented in letter and spirit, will rejuvenate the dying self-governance system in the tribal area.
  • This will also give an opportunity to correct the loopholes in the traditional governance system and make it a more gender-inclusive and democratic space.

Source: DTE

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