In continuance with the government’s effort to empower people of Naxal affected areas, the government is considering significant changes in two Central laws to meet the aspirations of locals.
The two laws — Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, also called PESA, meant for scheduled tribe areas and Forest Rights Act (FRA) covering those living in forests —are said to contradict each other while identifying rights of the locals.
While PESA identified only tribal rights, FRA recognises rights of even traditional forest dwellers along with that of tribals. “It means that other forest dwellers cannot get any benefit under PESA,” a senior government official said.
It’s direct implication is that a forest dweller cannot head a Gram Sabha or any panchayati raj body as PESA prescribes that the chairman should be a tribal. Because of this clause under PESA, several gram sabhas have not been constituted. This problem is being faced in number of areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.
“There is a conflict in the way the (two) laws have been drafted and are being operated,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said during a meeting of forest officials last Saturday.
The government has constituted a committee of secretaries headed by Member Secretary of Planning Commission Sudha Pillai to suggest changes in the two laws for better “synergy” in implementation. Panchayati Raj and Planning Commission have also suggested some changes in the two laws, which are “under discussion”.
One key change being considered is to allow other traditional forest dwellers, as identified in FRA, to be appointed as head of gram sabhas, if no tribals are available. All those who having been living in forests for three generations before December 2005 are considered traditional forest dwellers.
The changes, government officials believe, will help the state governments in better implementation of PESA, which was to be implemented within one year of notification in 1996 and 13 major flagship schemes through people’s participation.