..the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. Passed in 1996, PESA conferred on tribal communities the ownership of non-timber forest produce, the power to prevent alienation of land to non-tribals, the power of prior recommendation in granting mining leases, and the right to be consulted in land acquisition by the government. Assessing the impact of the legislation a decade later, the report found that “in most states, the enabling rules for the gram sabha’s control over prospecting of minor minerals, planning and management of water bodies, control and management of minor forest produce, [and] dissent to land acquisition are not yet in place, suggesting reluctance by the state governments to honour the mandate of PESA”.
In the past decade, it is in tribal districts that the Maoists have made the greatest gains, in good part because of the State’s own short-sighted and exploitative policies. The IRMA researchers are no sympathizers of the methods of the Naxalites. They see them (in my view, rightly) as a threat not just to Indian democracy, but to democratic values in general. They quote an activist who notes that while the Maoists might have, in the beginning, fought for greater economic and social rights for tribals, over the years they have “become corrupt, power hungry and intolerant of any difference[s]”. The insurgents are also deeply hypocritical; thus “while denouncing the ‘loot of adivasi resources’, the Party takes money from the mining industry to fund its operations”.
Ironically, although it had commissioned this assessment of PESA, the ministry of panchayti raj has thus far refused to allow it to be printed. If the ministry is sincere about its mandate, it should have this study read by all its officials. The officials of the home ministry and the prime minister’s office would profit from reading it too. Perhaps four people in particular should closely read and digest its contents: the prime minister, the home minister, the Congress president, and the youngest of the Congress general secretaries.
As Guha writes:
The IRMA study quotes an activist saying, “The government might not be interested in talking to the Maoists without certain pre-conditions. But what stops it from talking to its own people and understanding their pain?” Mahatma Gandhi once walked through the riot-torn districts of Bengal and Bihar — it may be too much to ask the leaders of today to walk through Dantewada, or Koraput, or Narayanpur, or Gadchiroli, or any of the other areas of tribal suffering and discontent.
The report can be read at Tehelka's website here and concludes:
But PESA—if honestly honoured—might help us
as a democracy, to begin rewriting this tragic story. Incidentally, this may be the last opportunity
that the State may have to retrieve PESA. The alternative is too horrific even to contemplate for
the Tribal Areas.