Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Image Courtesy: PTI
Bhopal: A year before the election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been in power in Madhya Pradesh for almost two decades, enacted Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 on November 15 after losing half tribal seats in 2018 assembly elections.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced the rules of the Act at a Tribal Pride Day programme in Lalpur village of Shahdol district on Tuesday in presence of India’s first tribal President Droupadi Murmu. The act was enacted almost 15 months after the first announcement in Jabalpur in September 2021 by Home Minister Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi on 15th November last year.
Passed by the Parliament in 1996 with an idea to empower and preserve the tribal population from exploitation, Madhya Pradesh became one of the eight states to enact the law. PESA gives special power to “gram sabhas” (Village committees) in scheduled areas for the management of natural resources. The new law will allow self-governance via Gram Sabhas in 89 tribal blocks of the state, covering 2,350 villages in 5,212 panchayats.
Accounting for 21% of the state’s population, Madhya Pradesh has the highest tribal population in the country. Out of the 230 seats, 47 are reserved for tribals in the state and have sway over the two dozen other seats. In the 2018 assembly elections, the saffron party had only won 16 seats, against 31 in 2013, while the Congress had won 30 in 2018, against 15 in 2013.
Speaking at the event, Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “Today is the day of social revolution.”
Highlighting the salient features of the Act, he said that it would give the self-governing rights of water, forest and land to the tribals and no room will be left for those persons who will try to grab the land of villagers by conversion, deceit or by any manipulations.
“Many times tribal sisters got deceived into marriage through allurement and sometimes conversion used to take her land. We will not allow such acts in Madhya Pradesh. Gram sabhas will intervene in such cases,” said Chouhan, while emphasising tribal conversions.
President Murmu, who visited Madhya Pradesh for the first time, said, “Looking at the challenges of climate change and global warming, one needs to learn from the lifestyle of tribals and their commitment to the conservation of forest and animals,” she said.
Talking about gender ratio, she pointed out, gender equality is a lesson that all must learn and imbibe from the tribal society. “Gender ratio in tribal society is better than the general population.”
Welcoming the implementation of PESA, tribal outfits pointed out that the gram sabha has given partial executive powers and all the financial powers have been kept out of their ambit.
Speaking to NewsClick, Congress MLA and convener of Tribal outfit, JAYS, Hiralal Alawa pointed out, “Madhya Pradesh tribals, who have the highest population in the country, have waited almost 26 years for this law. The BJP has been in power for almost 18 years and came to the senses after losing half of the tribal seats in the 2018 assembly elections.”
“While passing the law, the Parliament has urged the states to enact the law on the lines of the sixth schedule to empower tribes and prevent them from exploitations. Besides, the crux of this law is to empower gram sabha in tribal blocks. But how can anyone be empowered with partial executive powers and with no financial powers?” he asked.
Speaking to NewsClick about the newly passed PESA, Gulzar Singh Markam- National President of Gondwana Samagra Kranti Andolan, said, “The suggestions we have given to the government to frame rules have been ignored. Besides, financial powers have not been given to the gram sabha or the village government. We can understand it with an example; the Madhya Pradesh government would be given all executive powers to run the state. But the Union government would handle the finance.”
“With the implementation of PESA, the state is running away from implementing the fifth schedule in tribal blocks which we have been demanding for years,” he said. “Scheduled areas should be governed by tribal blocks according to the law. But many tribal blocks have been declared or added in Nagar Panchayat or Nagar Palika which is unconstitutional,” he pointed out.
Yet, addressing a PESA awareness rally at tribal block Kesla in Narmadapuram on Thursday, CM Chouhan said, “Tribals have rights over water, forests and land and the state government is ensuring that they get them. In order to empower the indigenous groups and provide prosperity to their lives, the state has established the PESA Act.”
Lashing out at the BJP for the delay and laxity in enacting the law, Congress State Media Vice President Bhupendra Gupta said, “Shivaraj Singh Chouhan is taking credit for the work that our government has already done 27 years ago. Yet, he failed to address the main objectives of the law.”
He pointed out, “On the recommendations of the Dilip Singh Bhuria Committee, the Congress government had already implemented the PESA Act. The short-lived Kamal Nath government, Congress, was working on PESA rules.”
He said that Congress has already implemented the PESA Act in spirit. “The major rights vested in it have already been protected by making rules. According to Section 165 (6) of the Land Revenue Code, a provision has already been made to ban the purchase and sale of tribal lands. Second major right: If the land of a tribal has been bought and sold on the basis of the wrong intention, then Congress has already ensured the right to take it back under section 170. Irregular moneylending has been completely banned in the scheduled areas under the Three-Moneylending Act. And under the Excise Act, our previous governments have already given legal permission to produce liquor in a traditional way to some extent under the local traditions,” Gupta added.
After losing considerable seats in the 2018 assembly polls, the BJP launched a tribal outreach programme when it returned to power after toppling the 15-month-long Kamal Nath government with the support of Jyotiraditya Scindia.
The BJP has announced making forest dwellers the ‘owners’ of forests, converting 827 out of the 925 forest villages into ‘revenue’ villages. Implementation of PESA, setting up memorials and museums highlighting the participation of tribal leaders in the freedom struggle and legalising Mahua- a staple drink of the tribals, which will be sold as heritage liquor. Renaming railway stations, colleges and areas after tribal icons.
CM Chouhan also announced to drop of petty cases registered against tribals most of which are related to the production and sale of Mahua, besides home delivery of PDS ration in all the 89 tribal blocks of the state.
Salient features of the Act
Every gram sabha will have a president, who will be elected either unanimously or by a majority vote for a year.
– The secretary of the gram panchayat will be the ex-officio secretary of all “gram sabhas” constituted under that gram panchayat.
– A gram sabha can also decide whether to give contracts for sand mines, ballast and stones or not.
– The gram sabha will give consent for the management of the ponds, fisheries, and cultivation of water chestnuts that falls under their panchayat.
– Only licensed loan vendors can operate and provide loans to villagers. They will have to provide details of interests charged to the gram sabhas and if they are charged higher interest action would be taken against them.
– In the case of beneficiary schemes the gram sabha will decide who will get the benefit first.
– Without approval of the gram sabha no new liquor shop can be opened.
– In the event of an FIR against any villager, gram sabha will be informed.
– The village committee will also have the authority to carry out inspections of schools, health centres, Anganwadi centres and ashram schools.
– A gram sabha should have at least 1/4th of its total members or 100, whichever is less to meet, 1/3rd of them would be women. – In the event of considering the issues of land acquisition, rehabilitation, return of land or an issue concerning community assets, the presence of 50% members of the gram sabha members would be necessary.
– The panchayat funds will be provided as per the provisions of section 66 of the MP Panchayat Raj & Gram Swaraj Act 1993.
– The proposal brought before the gram sabha will be passed unanimously to the extent possible or by majority voice if unanimity is not possible. In case of objection to a proposal, villagers can raise the objection before the “gram sabha” within 15 days after the proposal is passed.