The Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996

The Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 was enacted on 24th December, 1996. Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 commonly known as PESA was enacted to cover “Scheduled areas”, which are not covered under 73rd amendment of Indian Constitution or  Panchayati Raj Act . The act empowered the gram sabhas to self govern their natural resources. The Act provides for the extension to provisions of Part IX of Indian Constitution which relates to Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas.

Article 243M of the Constitution, while exempting the Fifth Schedule areas from Part IX of the Constitution, provides that Parliament may by law extend its provisions to the Scheduled and Tribal Areas subject to exceptions and modifications and no such law shall be deemed to be an amendment to the Constitution. On basis Bhuria Committee’s report submitted in 1995, the Parliament enacted the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) to extend Part IX of the Constitution with certain modifications and exceptions to the Scheduled V areas of 9 States viz. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orrisa and Rajasthan.

Section 2 of Act defines scheduled areas as the Areas defined and referred in Clause (1) of Article 244 of the  Indian Constitution. The Act extended provisions of Panchayats to such tribal areas of nine states that have Fifth Schedule Areas. The Act ensures that the panchayats in scheduled area shall take care of customs, usages, religious practices and traditions practiced and followed by village community. It also provides that every village shall contain a gram sabha whose members shall be included in the electoral list for the panchayats at village level. The panchayats are also entrusted with management of minor water bodies.

Section 4 of the Act is an important section which lays down that the state shall not make any law inconsistent with certain provisions of the act irrespective of part IX of the constitution. The Act gives enormous powers to Gram Sabhas and panchayats with respect to decisions taken by these in welfare of the village. Schedule tribe not adequately represented shall be given proper representation by the government.  Before acquiring land the state government shall consult the gram Panchayat which shall ensure proper settlement of the villagers. The recommendation of gram sabhas and panchayats shall be sought before granting mining lease in the village. Gram Sabha under sub clause (m) of section 4 is granted special powers with respect to sale of intoxicants, forest produce, management of village markets, exercise control over village societies and institutions.

Act under section 4 sub clause n empowers the Panchayat with power and authority of self governance and act like self government in the interest and welfare of the village.

PESA promotes people-centric governance and provides a central role to the Gram Sabha. The Gram Sabhas under PESA are deemed to be ‘competent’ to safeguard and preserve the traditions of their people, community resources and customary mode of dispute resolution.  The Gram Sabhas further have a mandatory executive functions to approve plans of the Village Panchayats; identify beneficiaries for schemes; issue certificates of utilization of funds; right to mandatory consultation in matters of land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation, and prospecting licenses/mining; leases for minor minerals, power to prevent alienation of land and restore alienated land; power to regulate and restrict sale/consumption of liquor; power to manage village markets, control money lending to STs; ownership of minor forest produce; power to control institutions and functionaries in all social sectors; power to control local plans and resources for such plans.

The Act was enacted to ensure independence of the gram sabha so that these could work proficiently towards development of panchayats. It gives enormous powers to panchayats to act in furtherance of promoting village welfare and take necessary steps for progressive village development. The Act empowers intervention of Panchayats, the Act hereby ensure to safeguard the interest of villages through Panchayats.

by Vibhuti Nakta.