Article in Frontline by VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN and AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA
PESA, which is seen as an enabling law for tribal self-governance, is violated brazenly by both the Union government and State governments in the name of development. By VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN and AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA
SINCE October 2012, the Ministry of Rural Development of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has apparently been engaged in an exercise to evolve a “National Land Reforms Policy”. Over these months, the Ministry wrote to various State governments, highlighting the importance of the initiative. In January, it also constituted a national-level “Task Force on Land Reforms” comprising nine official and eight non-official members.
These steps were in pursuance of the October 11, 2012, agreement the Ministry had signed in Agra with the Jan Satyagraha, a movement that had launched a padayatra (foot march) demanding a comprehensive National Land Reforms Act and institutions for its effective implementation and monitoring in order to provide landless, homeless and marginalised communities access to land and livelihood resources. Ironically, while the Ministry’s efforts have been continuing apace, other segments of the Union government and some State governments have actuated a number of measures that decisively undermine the initiative.
These acts of sabotage are essentially related to the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, which, under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, seeks to enable tribal self-governance. The Agra agreement, which virtually forms the basis of the efforts to formulate a new “National Land Reforms Policy”, also lays emphasis on effective implementation of PESA as a prerequisite for developing a just and balanced land rights system. However, on February 5, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests accorded “a general approval for diversion of forest land for undertaking developmental activities by the State Government Departments for the welfare of the people”, under its guidelines F. No. 11-9/1998-FC (pt). The explanation of “developmental activities” “for the welfare of the people” apparently involves infrastructure projects in different sectors.
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