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Missing the woods, the trees

india Updated: May 20, 2010 22:16 IST
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The government has a panoply of legislative measures that can counter Maoists more than strengthening security measures against the ‘criminals’. Principal among these is the provision in paragraph 3 of Part A of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution which vests in the Centre the right to ‘issue directions’ to states with regard to administration in the Maoist-affected tribal areas.

Invoking this provision becomes imperative in light of the failure of the states to take steps towards empowering tribals. The Constitution further provides that with respect to the Fifth Schedule areas, Parliament, not state legislatures, shall enact the law concerning implementation of panchayat raj (PR) there. Accordingly, Parliament passed in 1996 the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (Pesa).

There is no PR legislation by any state legislature which can match Pesa in how it empowers the gram sabha vis-à-vis the elected panchayat representatives and the bureaucracy. Pesa also entitles the gram sabha to be consulted on all matters relating to prospecting, mining, and the exploitation of forest produce, as also to resist any alienation of tribal land. These are the issues at the heart of the tribal unrest that abet Maoism.

Ironically, all states concerned have enacted conformity legislation to Pesa. And, tragically, this legislation has been observed in its breach. States have been far more concerned with promoting corporate interests in tribal areas than in enforcing their rights and entitlements.

Besides, there is excellent recent legislation relating to the rights of forest dwellers and their rights to sound rehabilitation and resettlement in the event of displacement. These too are legislation that never give precedence over two colonial period legislation: the Indian Forests Act, 1927 and the Land Acquisition Act of the 19th century, although Pesa obliges both the Union and State governments to amend any legislation not in conformity with Pesa provisions. Consequently, an oppressive bureaucracy rules the roost, in the absence of tribal self-government.

Parliament has also made available funds for expenditure in these tribal areas. Out of a total authorised expenditure of some Rs 1,35,000 crore on anti-poverty and Bharat Nirman programmes, the affected districts account for about a third of all districts. Thus, on a pro rata basis, they’re entitled to at least Rs 40,000 crore of Plan funds, besides a further Rs 10,000 crore, at least, from non-Plan funds. If Rs 50,000 crore were to be fast-tracked annually for expenditure by tribal community representatives, in conformity with Pesa and other existing legislation, tribals would be faced with a real choice between participative development and death at the hands of the Maoists or security forces. There can be little doubt as to which of these they would choose.

But today they have no choice. Notwithstanding the certificate given by the Cabinet Secretary that “financial progress” in Naxalite-affected districts has been “satisfactory”, the fact is that this relates to financial releases by the Centre to the states concerned, not the actual ground deployment of these funds through the panchayat institutions. Such complacency is unacceptable when a third of India is affected by ‘left-wing extremism’ (LWE).

What the home minister must do, as he promised the Rajya Sabha on May 6, 2010 he would do, is consult with the PM on the “appropriate mechanism or Committee” to mobilise the Centre’s authority to issue directions to the state governments concerned to make up to Rs 50,000 crore available annually to tribal communities in unaffected, least affected and less affected LWE districts (if not the ‘most seriously affected’ 19 Pesa districts until Naxalism is contained) to spend as they best see fit to meet their basic minimum requirements in strict conformity with existing legislation on the subject. This would be tantamount to no more than states actually implementing what they have already pledged to implement faithfully and in all sincerity.

Since they have failed to do so, the Union is obliged to act under powers vested in it by none other than the founding fathers themselves. Will the Union rise to the occasion, as it has promised Parliament it will?

Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal