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Odisha should adopt Gram Sabha system to ensure democracy in villages

 

Tribal Gram Sabha in Odisha

Bhubaneswar,

Last updated 06 Jul 2016 01:02 IST

  Odisha, PESA, FRA, Gram Sabha, Democracy

It’s however the fact that, instead of implementing PESA in full form and true spirit, Odisha government restricted the benefits of PESA meant for tribal communities of the state by adopting a few provisions of the central Act in State’s existing Gram Panchayat Act, 1964, Panchayat Samiti Act, 1959 and Zilla Parishad Act, 1991, which were mostly limited to extending the PRI (PanchayatiRaj Institution) system and conducting the elections for it in schedule V areas.

 

The Odisha government should review its ongoing three tier PanchayatiRaj System and adopt the Gram Sabha system as defined in the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to make the villages integral to the democratic system, urged Odisha’s Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), the outfit that took a vital role in enactment of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 while acknowledging the commitments shown by Odisha’s ruling party Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Congress Party as well in their election manifestos during the General and Assembly Election 2014 to reorganize the PRI system in Odisha and strengthen democracy at grass-root levels.

During the 2014 general and Assembly polls, BJD had committed to establish a “Panchayat in every Village having 1000 Population and to extend financial autonomy” while Congress Party went one step ahead and committed that “Each revenue village would be converted into a Panchayat extending power over 29 subjects,” mentioned a release issued by CSD.

“All the political parties in general and ruling BJD in particular must go a step further and declare ‘one village one Panchayat’ irrespective of revenue and forest /un-surveyed village in the line of FRA, 2006, and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA, 1996,” CSD urged.

It’s however the fact that, instead of implementing PESA in full form and true spirit, Odisha government restricted the benefits of PESA meant for tribal communities of the state by adopting a few provisions of the central Act in State’s existing Gram Panchayat Act, 1964, Panchayat Samiti Act, 1959 and Zilla Parishad Act, 1991, which were mostly limited to extending the PRI (PanchayatiRaj Institution) system and conducting the elections for it in schedule V areas.

 

The Government of Odisha while effecting limited application of PESA in 1997 undermined the basic objectives and the spirit of the law by extending the provisions of PRI as applied for the Non- Scheduled Areas to the Scheduled Areas.

On the other hand, the state government in all its reports loudly touted about successful implementation of PESA in the state till the Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik, in January 2012, said that “the Act could not be executed due to the lack of rules.” Even till date, the government of Odisha has not framed rules for implementation of PESA.

The Government of Odisha while effecting limited application of PESA in 1997 undermined the basic objectives and the spirit of the law by extending the provisions of PRI as applied for the Non- Scheduled Areas to the Scheduled Areas, said CSD citing that the very objective behind the constitutional provisions of Scheduled V, Scheduled VI and PESA, 1996, have been to protect these areas so that tribal living in these areas can be free from external interference and be better protected.

Condemning the Government of Odisha for diluting the provisions of empowered Gram Sabha under PESA, and even in case of FRA as well, while implementing these Acts in the State, CSD held the existing “PanchayatiRaj System” of the State responsible for non-achievement of the objectives of the noble Acts. It also termed the PR system as the biggest ever joke and a farce in the name of decentralization of power citing that neither the village is recognized as a ‘self-governing body” in this system nor there is any importance of the community.

“Neither the communities nor the people's representatives are empowered while bureaucracy is over empowered under this Act which is far away from Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of ‘One Village-One Country’ and ‘Self Reliant Village.’ As observed, the very purpose of the PRI has been for implementation of anti-poverty programmes and to carry out developmental, construction activities of the government in top-to-bottom approach,” said the CSD release.

Further, to make it suitable to the pro-corporate agenda in the name of development, the state government, through orders and circulars, made way for its officials to bypass the vital provisions of the Acts.

As cited by CSD, “the Government of Odisha openly violated the provisions of “2/3 Quorum” of the FRA Gram Sabha, specified under Section 4(2) of Forest Rights Rules, by issuing the Circular vide letter No.40373/SSD Dated 21.11.08, which emphasized on non-requirement of the one/tenth quorum of the Palli Sabha once it is certified by the Secretary of Panchayat. Accordingly, the ‘2/3 quorum’ of the FRA Gram Sabha has been consciously bypassed by Government of Odisha. Even the Civil Society Organizations who should have worked to ensure FRA Gram Sabha in the State have failed to ensure it while facilitating FRA implementation in the State.”

Reacting over the recent decision by the BJD Government on selection of beneficiaries under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) and Mo Kudia schemes in the presence of MLA in the Palli Sabha and Gram Sabha, CSD condemned the Government for politicization of the Gram Sabha and disrespecting the democratic rights of grass-root communities.

“It is unfortunate that, like bureaucrats, the politicians irrespective of any single political party (BJD, Congress and BJP) do not have faith in the capacity and competency of the Gram Sabha - the grass-root institution of democracy,” said CSD adding that “even many so called intellectuals, academicians also do not have faith in the capacity and competency of communities and people living in the villages.”

The Government of India in the Central PESA, 1996, however, for the first time constitutionally admitted that the community people are competent enough to take decisions and governing themselves. PESA also considered the “One village-One Gram Sabha” irrespective of revenue or forest or un-surveyed.

The Forest Rights Act 2006 and its Rules have not only revived almost all provisions of the Central PESA Act but it also extended the provisions of the PESA even to all non-scheduled area of the State. FRA has also provided to recognize “PTG Habitat” under section (1) (e) with provision that “one village would have its own Gram Sabha taking all its adult members.”

Like PESA, it recognizes the Gram Sabha in all villages irrespective of their revenue or forest village status. It recognizes the Gram Sabha as “Authority” over its resources (land, water and forest). It considers Gram Sabha, the General Body, as the decision making body where decision would be taken in the presence of all and not by its executive only. The quorum of the Gram Sabha, which was 2/3 (66 out of 100), has now been reduced to at least 51% (simple majority). It gives freedom to the community people to hold Gram Sabha meeting as and when they wish. “Thus FRA has discarded the practice of “decision making by limited bodies of Executives or People’s Representatives” and aimed at “Direct Democracy” at Gram Sabha.

The Act is very clear that all the members of the Executive Committees (ECs) of the GS should be exclusively from the GS itself leaving no space for outsiders, Government officials to be the member of the EC. This is unique in itself. Besides, FRA Gram Sabha is empowered to give notice/summon to the public servants at different levels to be present in the meeting of Gram Sabha. GS can ask for any help (financial, human, material etc) at any time to concerned government officials. Thus FRA redefines the place, position and role of the public servants in implementation of its decisions. CSD suggested for Hamlet level Sabha, Mahila (woman) Sabha and Children Sabha to effectively deal with the specific issues of the concerned groups in larger villages.

Besides recognition of Individual and community forest rights (grazing, ownership over MFP) and community rights over forest, the FRA has also empowered the GS to protect and manage the forest and other natural resources. It has also empowered the community (GS) to decide over diversion of forest land for non-forest uses.

However, “these rights recognized by FRA are seen by the State and the Central Governments as threats to their agenda of development. To cite the most recent impact of the FRA, Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, on basis of this Act, directed the Government of Odisha/ Vedanata Company to seek consent of the Dongaria Kandh community for diversion of Niyamgiri Hills for mining. And, this empowered the Dongaria Kandhs also to deny mining and win the battle against Government of Odisha and the Vedanta Company.

CSD, while urged upon all the civil society organizations, intellectuals and activists who are committed for the “Gram Swaraj” to spread the message of the victory of Dongaria Kandh in the battle over Niyamgiri, called upon the community people across the State to discard the existing three tier Panchayati Raj system and establish the system of Gram Sabha. By this, the State can have real democracy at the very grass-root level as well.

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