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PESA and Self-Governance

                                                                       -- A Participant's Ringside View
A symposium, PESA and Self-Governance: A Concern of 12th Five Year Plan, was held at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi on February 25-26 2013. The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA, if implemented effectively, has the potential and provision to radically change the socio-political landscape of adivasis in India. With a central role to the Gram Sabha, it provides for adivasi-centric governance and control over community resources and their life. The pressure on natural resources in these areas continues due to large projects being set up therein and unscrupulous elements indulging in illegal mining, land grabbing & forest felling. This has led to dislocation of communities and loss of major sources of livelihood and also increased vulnerability and disenchantment with governance.
In his keynote address former Minister for Panchayati Raj and currently Rajya Sabha Member Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar opined that the Act fulfiled practically all aspirations of adivasis in India in so far as their autonomy, well being and identity are concerned. He however cautioned that given the high degree of poverty, lack of infrastructure, illiteracy, exploitation and marginalization has led to firm entrenchment of leftwing extremism in Schedule V areas. Of 94 PESA districts, 32 have been declared as Extremist Affected Districts (EADs). Of 76 EADs, 32 are PESA districts. Of 34 Most Extremist Affected Districts, 19 are PESA districts, according to official estimates. The rights, livelihood and habitat of the people in these Areas, therefore, continue to be under stress, leading to disaffection with the system. Shri Aiyar also pointed out that extremism is an entirely indigenous response of people to the government's failure to effect its own Acts and Laws. It had no "foreign hand" whatsoever.
Continuing in the same vein, Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, Member, Rajya Sabha, argued that though the Act was passed by Parliament in 1996, the government did not do much for its implementation. It currently is in a stalemate. Decisions such as PESA are taken by the ruling political elite that backs out when the time comes for implementation. Central and state governments seem to be in some sort of competition in its non-implementation. If one takes all the positive aspects of development one finds adivasis at the bottom even in the 9 PESA states; if one takes the negatives, then adivasis are at the top. Practically, no provision of the Act has been implemented at the village level. Amongst PESA states, there are several who do not want intermediary Panchayats (as at village/block level). Hence, their unwillingness to implement. It is significant to note that the Act has no rule making powers; so much so it cannot issue directions to government functionaries even at the lowest levels of hierarchy. According to an Advocate from the Supreme Court Judiciary is ill-informed of the Act; most Lordships may not have even heard of it. He cited an example of Rajasthan High Court. Villages in some Schedule V states are being upgraded to urban villages for the purpose of land acquisition.
Shri T.N. Chaturvedi, Chairman IIPA, raised a fundamental issue, that of asking where does PESA fit into the government's scheme of things. Another participant pointed out that the governance mode at the national level is GDP-focused. It does not take much into consideration issues as local self governance: the very spirit of PESA. The fall in growth rate from 8% to 5% is about the only major concern of planners in India. Higher the GDP grew, lesser were the funds sent to adivasi areas. Those who make money during high growth rates do not allow adivasis to reach even the peripheral levels of their consciousness. Of the $360 billion of foreign reserves not a cent reaches the adivasis. This, amongst other issues, has given rise to leftwing radicalism in PESA areas. As a result, 32 districts have spun out of control and the government writ does not run there.
It was expected that PESA would lead to self-governance and empowerment of the people. The second Administrative Reforms Commission too had stressed the effective implementation of the Act.  “The Union and State legislations that impinge on provisions of PESA should be immediately modified so as to bring them in conformity with the Act,” it stated . Moreover, international organizations too have stressed the right to self determination of these groups. “Indigenous people around the world have sought recognition of their identities, their ways of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources; yet throughout history, their rights have been violated,” states a UN report. Hence, PESA seems to be the best policy to fulfil this concern. There is a case for creating a special arrangement:
1. Faster, Sustainable and More Inclusive Growth: An Approach to Twelfth Five Year Plan
2. Recommendation of 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008
3. United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, October 2006 whereby in the   two years of the Twelfth Plan funds can be unconditionally released for all these districts to facilitate the speedy implementation of PESA
Not surprisingly, various expert committees have recommended implementation of PESA in letter & spirit. There is evidential urgency to its implementation. It can achieve three things simultaneously:
(1) Deprive the leftwing extremists of the fertile ground of backwardness and poverty in the “Red Corridor” and make them baseless;
(2) Assimilate the 8 percent tribal Adivasis into the mainstream political current through self governance; and
(3) Preserve forests and local ecology because only they know their land and its resources best.
Summarised by Narendra
DoE Bastar/SADED
March 1, 2013
Narendra has spent over three decades amongst adivasis of Central India.