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.
BODY PARAGRAPH-1 -SIGNIFICANCE:
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:
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.
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.