General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity & Constitution)
Question:- 42. The Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 has a long road to cover to realize its objectives. Discuss. Answer in 250 words.
Aug 18, 2022





According to the 2011 Census, almost 9% of population of India is tribal and a great majority of these people reside in scheduled areas.



The Panchayat (Extension of the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA, was enacted  to bring the Scheduled Areas in ten States of the country under the purview of national framework of Panchayat. This Act was framed in conformity with traditional tribal self-rule by entrusting extraordinary power to Gram Sabha.



It legally recognises the right of tribal communities, residents of the scheduled areas, to govern themselves through their own systems of self-government, and also acknowledges their traditional rights over natural resources. In pursuance of this objective, PESA 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.The powers of gram sabhas help them in maintenance of cultural identity and tradition. It also has a duty to maintain peace and resolve conflicts arising in the village, while protecting tribal customs and traditions, and encouraging customs like ghotul.




  1. 1.As the Act aimed to decentralise power and empower indigenous communities, it has paved the way for participatory democracy & envisaged that each tier of the local governance is independent.
  2. 2.While the 73rd Amendment, which inserted Article 243, made the terms Gram (village) and Gram Sabha (village assembly) a part of the Constitution for the first time, PESA gave shape to the concept of self governance, by devolving power and authority to them.
  3. 3.It recognizes that the ‘Gram Sabhas’ are ‘competent’ and calls upon the state governments to ensure legal, procedural and administrative empowerment as a means of deepening democracy.
  4. 4.Its provisions appeared to come as a saviour that is designed to erase the historical injustice done to the tribal community and helps in restoration of their dignity and tradition of self-governance.



LINKAGE POINT: However, even after 26 years of existence of PESA Act, there are many roadblocks preventing empowerment of tribals in India. Some of them are listed below:



  1. 1.PESA Act does not specify rule-making powers or provide a time period by which the States have to frame rules. Hence, the law remains disempowered as 40% of the states haven’t formulated the necessary rules yet. Six states have formed the PESA laws, and Chhattisgarh would become the seventh state if the rules are enacted.


  1. 2.Even the states which have formulated the rules have poor implementation.
  • -Powerful people still have control over natural resources and the local community suffers at the hand of these people with clout, if they try to claim their ownership.
  • -The government is acquiring land without the consent of gram sabhas [village council].
  • -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.
  • -Not a single state has given control of minor forest produce to gram sabhas so far.


  1. 3.Legal difficulties related to the
    • -definition of village,
    • -gaps and inconsistencies between the Central and the State Acts,
    • -clash between PESA and pre-existing laws,
    • -lack of clarity about customary practices and cultural identity etc.

E.g. When several laws related to mining have been proposed, PESA faces a unique question about its relevance. For instance, in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh, the local community is protesting the government decision of acquiring land using the Coal Bearing Act of 1957 – something that experts argue is illegal and against the spirit of PESA.


  1. 4.Governments and officials concerned try to govern the PESA areas through the centralized administration and laws that actually weaken what PESA provisions offer the tribal community. There is very less willingness on the part of the officials of various departments to relinquish control on resources and functions that are given to the Gram Sabhas by PESA. Also, a respect for tribal lifestyle and culture remains a question and creates hurdles when it comes to taking decisions.


  1. 5.Political problems which include
  • -lack of political will,
  • -ignorance about PESA among different segments,
  • -fragmentation of well-knit tribal society because of electoral competition etc.




PESA is a most powerful legislation which can play an instrumental role in recognizing the rights of the tribal population and thus, transforming their quality of life. The concerned governments should take appropriate action to eliminate the loopholes in the legislation immediately and ensure its implementation followed by a strong direction from political government to abide by the constitutional mandate. Civil Society Organizations who have been fighting proactively for the issue has to play strategic role in building awareness among the stakeholders at each level and organizing the politically divided tribal communities. So, a multi-pronged strategy to address the issue from different aspect is the need of the hour.