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Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996

The PESA Act was enacted in 1996 “to provide for the extension of the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the Panchayats.....

The PESA Act was enacted in 1996 “to provide for the extension of the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas”.

What is PESA Act 1996, and why was it enacted?

Responding to the enduring demands of India’s tribal communities for enhanced autonomy and self-governance, the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 was introduced.

  • On 24 December 1996, the enactment of the PESA Act enabled tribal self-rule in fifth schedule areas. The Act extended the provisions of Panchayats to the tribal areas of Fifth Schedule states.
  • Historically, the tribal communities in India have been marginalized and excluded from the mainstream political and economic systems and have faced numerous challenges such as displacement, loss of land and resources, and cultural erosion.
  • The PESA act drew inspiration from the provisions of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Indian constitution. It aimed to provide greater autonomy to the Scheduled areas, which are predominantly tribal in nature, and protect their rights over land and forest.
  • The PESA Act gives special powers to the Gram Sabhas in Scheduled Areas, especially for managing natural resources. The main rationale behind the Act is to preserve the tribal population from exploitation with the active involvement of the Gram Sabha.

Provisions of the PESA Act

  • The PESA Act is also known as Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. It aims to empower local self-governance in scheduled areas in India.
  • Recognition of gram sabhas as the decision-making body in tribal areas.
  • Granting authority to gram sabhas to manage and control natural resources, such as land, water, and forests.
  • Ensuring participation of tribal communities in the decision-making process regarding land acquisition and development projects.
  • Protecting the traditional rights and customs of tribal communities.
  • Providing autonomy to panchayats in scheduled areas. It is done to plan and implement socio-economic development programs.
  • Facilitating the transfer of certain powers and responsibilities from higher levels of government to panchayats in scheduled areas.
  • Ensuring the safeguarding of tribal culture, heritage, and traditions.
  • Promoting self-governance and self-determination among tribal communities.
  • Strengthening the administrative and financial capacities of panchayats in scheduled areas.
  • Establishing institutional mechanisms for conflict resolution and dispute settlement at the local level.

Objective of implementing PESA:

  • To extend the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas with certain modifications.
  • To provide self-rule for the bulk of the tribal population.
  • To have village governance with participatory democracy and to make the Gram Sabha a nucleus of all activities.
  • To evolve a suitable administrative framework consistent with traditional practices.
  • To safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of tribal communities.

Key Features of PESA Act

  • A State legislation enacted on the Panchayats in the Scheduled Areas shall be in sync with the customary law and social and religious practices.
  • The Gram Sabha in every village will comprise individuals whose names appear in the voter list of the village-level Panchayat.
  • Every Gram Sabha shall be empowered for safeguarding and preserve the traditions of people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary way of dispute resolution. 
  •  It recognises the right of tribal communities, who are residents of the Scheduled Areas, to govern themselves through their own systems of self-government.

Power of Gram Sabha entrusted by PESA act:

  • To enforce prohibition or to regulate or restrict the sale and consumption of any intoxicant.
  • The ownership of minor forest produce lies with the gram sabha.
  • To prevent alienation of land in the Scheduled Areas and to take appropriate action to restore any unlawfully alienated land of a Scheduled Tribe.
  • To exercise control over money lending to the Scheduled Tribes.
  • To exercise control over institutions and functionaries in all social sectors.
  • To control over local plans and resources for such plans including tribal sub-plans.

Working on PESA at Grassroot

  • It recognises the right of tribal communities, who are residents of the Scheduled Areas, to govern themselves through their systems of self-government, and also acknowledges their traditional rights over natural resources.
  • The Act empowers Gram Sabhas to play a key role in approving development plans and controlling all social sectors.
  • This includes the processes and personnel who implement policies, exercising control over minor (non-timber) forest resources, minor water bodies and minor minerals, managing local markets, preventing land alienation and regulating intoxicants among other things.
  • Anticipated active voice version: State governments are expected to amend their respective Panchayati Raj Acts without introducing any laws that would be inconsistent with the PESA mandate.
  • Ten states — Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana — have notified Fifth Schedule areas that cover (partially or fully) several districts in each of these states.
  • After the PESA Act was enacted, the central Ministry of Panchayati Raj circulated the model PESA Rules. So far, six states have notified these Rules, including Gujarat.

Significance of Implementing the Act

  • Democratic decentralization: PESA gives Gram Sabhas significant authority over all social sectors and the ability to approve development plans. This involves control over:
  • Resources over jal, jangal, zameen (water, forest, and land)
  • Minor forest produce
  • Human resources: Processes and personnel who implement policies
  • Managing local markets
  • Preventing land alienation
  • Regulating intoxicants among other things
  • Identity Preservation: The gram sabhas have authority over tribal affairs, the upkeep of cultural traditions and identity, and the management of natural resources in a village’s vicinity.
  • Conflict Resolution: The PESA Act thus enables gram sabhas to maintain a safety net over their rights and surroundings against external or internal conflicts.
  • Public Watchdog: Within the boundaries of their villages, the gram sabha would have the authority to regulate and forbid the production, distribution, sale, and consumption of intoxicants.
  • Gandhian Philosophy: The Act is based on the Gandhian idea of Gram Swaraj, which is embodied in Article 40 of the Constitution (which organizes local panchayats) and only came to life with the passage of PESA.
  • Past injustice: Its provisions gave the impression that a saviour had emerged, erasing the historical injustice done to the tribal people and restoring their honour and self-government customs.

Read Also: Evolution Of Panchayati Raj

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