Ranchi – The Jharkhand government has taken a significant step forward by officially adopting the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) or PESA Rules-2022, paving the way for strengthened and empowered Gram Sabhas. The state government has officially ratified the rules, effectively addressing numerous objections and suggestions. This decision, taken on September 25, solidifies the role of Gram Sabhas and enhances their decision-making authority. However, the decision to have traditional tribal leaders like Manki and Munda preside over Gram Sabha meetings has ignited a heated debate. Advocacy groups, particularly the Adivasi Sengal Abhiyan, are opposing this aspect of the new law.
Public Input and Finalization Process
Prior to the finalization, the government had invited objections and suggestions regarding the draft of the PESA Rule until August 31. Various organizations submitted their input, and the government carefully considered these recommendations. Objections and suggestions contrary to the provisions of the High Court, Supreme Court, PESA Act, and Jharkhand Panchayat Raj Act-2001 were rejected, while relevant suggestions were incorporated into the finalized PESA Rule-2022. The rule consists of 17 chapters and 36 sections.
Empowered Gram Sabhas: Gram Sabhas have been bestowed with substantial power and empowerment under the finalized PESA Rule-2022.
Traditional Leadership: Traditional leaders like Manki and Munda will preside over Gram Sabha meetings, ensuring cultural continuity.
Official Roles: The Panchayat Secretary will assume the role of the Gram Sabha Secretary, facilitating efficient proceedings.
Quorum Requirements: To conduct meetings effectively, the presence of at least 1/3 of the members is now necessary.
Gender Inclusivity: Gender inclusivity is emphasized, with 1/3rd of the prescribed number of women required to achieve quorum.
Discipline Enforcement: The Chairman of the Gram Sabha has been granted authority to expel members who disrupt meetings or exhibit misbehavior.
Land Acquisition: Land acquisition without the consent of the Gram Sabha has been prohibited, ensuring community consent in such matters.
Judicial Accountability: Decisions made by the Gram Sabha hold finality, offering a community-centric approach to governance.
Legal Measures: To maintain law and order in Gram Sabha villages, a total of 36 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) have been imposed on offenders, with penalties ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 1000. Appeals for punishments will be directed to the High Court after traditional proceedings.
Police Accountability: The PESA rule makes it mandatory to inform the Gram Sabha about the reasons for someone's arrest within 48 hours.
The finalized PESA Rule-2022 introduces provisions for establishing a fund within the Gram Sabha, comprising categories such as food, labor, commodity, and cash funds. Various sources, including donations, incentives, penalties, fees, royalties from forest produce, and income from leased ponds and markets, will contribute to the cash fund. However, only a maximum of Rs 10,000 can be retained in a Gram Sabha box, with any excess amount to be deposited in a bank account.
The Gram Sabhas will now have the authority to decide on grants under Article 275(1) of the Constitution and the schemes to be implemented from the District Mineral Development Fund (DMFT). Scheme beneficiaries will be selected through the Gram Sabha, and department-run schemes must be discussed within the Gram Sabha.
In cases where the PESA rule conflicts with social, religious, or customary practices, the Gram Sabha has the right to raise objections. In such instances, the Gram Sabha will pass a resolution and forward it to the state government through the Deputy Commissioner. The government will establish a high-level committee within 30 days, which will then submit its report within 90 days. The government will make decisions based on this report and inform the Gram Sabha accordingly.
The Mooknayak spoke to Salkhan Murmu, the former MP and National President of Adivasi Sengal Abhiyan on the pros and cons of the newly ratified rules. Murmu said," The Jharkhand government has finalized the PESA Rules-2022, which include a provision to empower Gram Sabhas. Sengel welcomes this development. However, it seems unconstitutional for traditional tribal village heads, such as Majhi Pargana, Manki Munda, Doklo Sohor, Padha Raja, to preside over Gram Sabha meetings. These traditional heads symbolize a monarchical system and do not align with democratic principles. They often violate the Constitution, the law, and human rights by imposing fines on innocent, vulnerable tribal villagers, social boycotting them, accusing them of witchcraft, and engaging in vote buying and selling."
Murmu further added, " It is important to note that Section 243(B) and 243A of the Constitution clearly define Gram Sabha as a body consisting of individuals registered in the electoral roll related to a village within the Panchayat's jurisdiction. Section 243A also specifies that the Gram Sabha, at the state level, can exercise powers and perform functions prescribed by the State Legislature. Therefore, the PESA Act of 1996 cannot contradict the provisions of the Constitution. Consequently, Sengel demands that instead of traditional heads, democratic tribal leaders should preside over Gram Sabha meetings. If all tribal members of a village collectively elect their tribal village head, rather than accepting self-appointed traditional leaders, it would benefit democracy, the Constitution, and public interests. This change would provide better opportunities for tribal men and women to contribute to societal development."
Traditionally appointed leaders like Majhi Pargana and Manki Munda are often illiterate, addicted to alcohol, and ignorant of the Constitution and the law. They may obstruct the progress of development and justice. Just as harmful traditions like Sati, triple talaq, and restrictions on women's temple access have been reformed in the name of tradition, it is now imperative to reform incorrect tribal traditions in the interest of democracy and public welfare.
" The Sengel campaign demands that the Jharkhand government promptly amend the PESA Rule-2022 to replace traditional village heads with democratic ones. Otherwise, Sengel may be compelled to file a public interest litigation in the Jharkhand High Court," Salkhan asserted.
The controversy also raises questions about the government's motives behind the PESA Rule-2022. While the rule aims to empower tribal communities, some critics suggest it could be a political strategy to gain favour among tribal voters, as Chief Minister Hemant Soren has announced incentives for traditional leaders. This has led to concerns about whether the rule genuinely seeks to advance tribal society or serves as a political move to secure votes.
The finalization of the PESA Rule-2022 in Jharkhand, though intended to empower Gram Sabhas and promote tribal welfare, has sparked a significant debate over the role of traditional tribal village heads. As tribal advocacy groups continue to voice their concerns and demand amendments, the government faces the challenge of striking a balance between tradition and democracy while ensuring the rule's effective implementation.