MUMBAI: In a small yet significant victory, tribals from several hamlets in Jawhar and Mokhada blocks of Palghar district have forced the state administration to grant village panchayat status to their hamlets under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act and release funds accordingly.
Not only did the tribals demand the status of a village panchayat, but over 2,500 of them from 40 hamlets came together to seek a separate village status at Jawhar.
They met Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Savara, who assured them that all their demands would be met and handed the ‘proceedings book’ to Shankar and Dinesh Burkud of Pindharshet hamlet as a token gesture of their demands being fulfilled.
In 2014, Maharashtra became the leading state in formulating rules for PESA that was brought in by the Parliament in 1996 to further decentralise the democratic process in tribal areas. Under PESA, hamlets are given the right to demand the status of a village panchayat to enable them to prioritise development in their area.
PESA, which is also known as the tribal self-rule act, vouches to give all rights related to resources, such as land use, transfer of land titles, minor forest produce, minor minerals and small reservoirs, to the Gram Sabha. However, while implementing the Act, revenue villages were taken into account for all practical purposes. By pressing for village panchayat status, the tribals challenged an administration extremely reluctant to any change.
Prakash Baraf, an activist of Vayam, the grass-root organisation leading the tribals’ agitation, explained the rationale behind the demand, “In our area, several hamlets that are kilometres apart are clubbed under one village panchayat. Many a times, they have minimal communication, but are clubbed together to suit the norms related to the number of inhabitants. In such village panchayats, the dominant hamlets enjoy more rights and resources while the others tend to be ignored. The system also gives rise to corruption.”
“According to the PESA rules, at least 50 per cent of the voters in a hamlet need to get together to raise the demand for a separate Gram Sabha status. The Sub-Divisional Commissioner to whom the villagers need to submit an application, needs to verify the claim and submit their report to the District Collector. If the officer fails to do that in 90 days, the District Collector has the power to do take the decision within 45 days. And if both the officers fail to take the decision, the separate village status is deemed to be granted to the hamlet,” said Vinayak Thalkar, another Vayam activist.