And the Constitution was trampled by its Custodians with full grace, without graceless shorsharava or clumsy walkouts of any sort, for it was for a ‘Cause’! Soft reminders by some about softer references by its own Committee(1) melted away in the thin conditioned air of the House; better sense prevailed in favour of astute unanimity. ‘Crumbs’ have been guaranteed as ‘the grace of the gods’; beggars cannot be choosers about the hand that gives. ‘We, the People of Village Assembly’ have been shown their place on the floor as solicitors, reserving the final word for ‘Their Royal & Loyal Sirs’! (2)

The times have changed; the forms have changed; the watchwords have changed; But…the eternal truth about the spirit of our Great Regime remains unchanged –‘Distrust the People and Trust the System’, the advise of the Idealist Hume notwithstanding! (3) Irrelevant also is another Idealist, the Naked Fakir who swore by the Village as a Republic and the talisman of Last Man’s perception. (4) Nay, Irrelevant is even the ‘Idealist with a difference’ of the Great Revolution that ‘failed’ and his ‘ephemeral’ call --‘All Powers to the Soviets’!! (5) Pragmatism, not idealism is the key to success for all those dedicated to the ‘Welfare of the State’(6), notwithstanding the Last Testament of that Fakir(7); and incidentally also to the ‘Welfare of the ‘Slaves’’ that carry its Royal Palanquin on their shoulders, in spite of the abolition of ‘begar’.(8)

The ‘Original Sin’ was committed by the Founding Fathers, of course under the shadow of Gandhi(9). The same Great Hall was filled with thunderous applause when the provision in the draft Constitution (10) for ‘village-republics’ in the form of ‘Panchayats’ was solemnly adopted. But thank God, the Salvage Operation by the real guards, operating from closed rooms of the ‘Capitol’, averted the Catastrophe. “ ‘Panchayat’ could not be the open assembly of ‘We, the People’, as the Founders thought; it has to be a body of ‘representatives’ in a true democracy”, ruled the Lords. (11) And even the proposition about ‘true democracy’ in vogue amongst the tribal people, that could provide a few lessons to others in the nation, was glossed over by the Assembly. The issue had been humbly, but passionately placed in the very beginning by Gandhi of the fabled Frontier, besides Jangalee Jaipal and Roy from the Abode of Clouds. (12)

      • *** ***

The Great Book had been sterilised; but some germs remained. The innocent Idealist in another Gandhi racked up the issue again after 40 years. (13) He was especially swayed by the idyllic smiles of innocence in the wild. He appreciated the ‘logic of the living’ and excluded the ‘Born-Free’ from the proposed Regime of formal Panchayats; an alternative could be built on their traditional system. (14) The promise was kept in the 73rd Amendment but leaving a crucial blank.(15) Incidentally Gram Sabha (GS), the ‘Irrelevant-Unreal ’ also barged in along with Gram Panchayat (GP). (16) But the States in a hurry with a revolutionary zeal missed the special deal for the Scheduled Areas.(SA) (17) The childlike inquisitiveness about the new Toy-Panchayats? of the conclave of Panch-Sarpanchas? in the fabled Muria country of Bastar left them greatly amused. (18) ‘Consider Thy Father’s Advice; Obey thy Servant’ (Gram Sabha, the Father and Collector, the Servant), the essence of the new System, appeared rather funny to the simple folks unaware about the mystique of the legal world. When this epigram reached the State Capital, it hit the bull’s eye, but… Recommendations of GS were made binding on GP, but ‘Servant’s Suzerainty’ was maintained for considerations of Real Politik. (19) The Stalwarts of Democracy in general have remained unaware, nay, unconcerned with such childish quirks of the ‘uncivilised’! 1999, the ‘Year of Gram Sabha’ passed off peaceably without raising such embarrassing questions!! (20)

And no State, or even the Centre, cared about the vital omission in the State laws about the langotiwallas (men with loincloth), even though a Committee had been constituted to suggest ‘exceptions and modifications(21). The break came in January 1995 when the Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh declared extension of the general law about Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas as unconstitutional(22). The reaction was instant. There was a veritable storm in the entire tribal tract against the breach of promise, coupled with firm assertion of their living tradition –Mava Nate Mava Raj (Our Village Our Rule) – as their ‘natural right’. (23) This was also affirmed by the Bhuria Committee(24). The State had to relent(25) There could be no place for ‘delegation’ or even ‘devolution’ of powers in this simple frame of natural rights of ‘We, the People in Village Assembly’, the real Sovereign. The Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) was passed unanimously by the Parliament in 1996. This Act acknowledges the ‘competence’ of ‘people’s assembly’ in the form of ‘Gram Sabha’ to manage all its affairs according to traditions and customs of the people(26) Thus, PESA brings GS back to the centre of governance at the village level. The mundane matters of implementation of ‘plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development’ are naturally the concern of its executive, the GP. But it is subject to two conditions that (i) GS shall approve them before they are taken up for ‘implementation’, and (ii) GP in the end shall obtain from the GS ‘a certificate of utilisation of funds’(27).

These were simple common sense provisions that came naturally in the discourse about the wild. No one in this great sojourn realised that the ‘simple’ some times can be the most ‘radical’. Here was a ‘historic Himalayan’ blunder of accepting ‘simple’ as simple(28).There is a considered view that if hon’ble MPs had not been swayed by the idealistic vein of the Bill, it would have never been passed. A hon’ble Minister in M.P. summed up the deliberations about its implementation in 1997 with a question, simple and straight: ‘What will remain, as the task of us all that are assembled here-- ministers, legislators and senior civil servants-- if this law is honestly implemented?’(29) The objective is clear—‘Simple Regime of a Real Democracy’. The process, however, can be long. The unexpressed fear is that it can become a precedent and set a trend. It will uncork the ‘Jind’ of Democracy(30). There is total resistance to the implementation of PESA in its true spirit amongst the ruling elite of all hues and shades(31). GS is obviously the most ‘unmanageable’. It is a thorn in every one’s side, be it a politician or civil servant, some honourable exceptions notwithstanding.

      • *** ***

A leaf from Bastar at the dawn of new Millennium will give inkling about the pent-up wrath against the blasphemous PESA in the Establishment of our Great Democracy that is in a hurry to achieve something Greater at any cost(32). ‘How long can we afford to carry the odd ‘stones’ of that mill of by-gone age round our neck in the race of development?’ screamed the Marathon Runner(33). It was in this frame of reference that defenders of the Regime and the Faith destroyed the seditious records of Gram Sabhas. Their members had shown the audacity, in the course of formal consultation under statutory provisions of PESA, to humbly submit before ‘Her Highness, the DM’ (District Magistrate) about their possible place in the new economy around the proposed plant for producing steel. Green signal was given by the Faithful on the strength of forged consent of concerned Gram Sabhas. The ‘duty’ was performed under clear directions from the top, albeit through ethereal ‘thought-waves’ that leave no mark. The innocent poser, alien to the ethos of this Great Democracy, literally proved to be a red rag for the fighting Bulls in that closed arena. More than three hundred protesters including more than a hundred women concerned about their fate were detained in jail for 48 days, perhaps a great national record of sorts(34). The petition before the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was of no avail, even though the charges against the charged had been substantiated in the Inquiry before the former, mandated by the Constitution(35). The people could get no relief from the National Human Rights Commission either. And the loyal Officer of the Police, dedicated to the protection of the ‘Welfare State’ against urchins of all sorts, was awarded the coveted Indian Police Medal for his gallantry while handling the ‘unruly’ lot.

Stories are galore in this land of fables. Latest is from the land of Santhals in Jharkhand. Sarkari paper reports prevailed over the ‘word of honour’ even in a Writ before the Hon’ble High Court.(36) An embarrassed DM from Rajasthan sought protection of a transparent cover: Can we not even help GS in recording the proceedings? (37) Guns boomed when women in Dahanu asked their GP to present accounts. (38) A dozen villagers of Pharsagudi in Sarguja are facing prosecution for obstructing public servants including the Sarpanch in due discharge of their duty who objected to construction of a phisalpatti disapproved by GS unanimously. (39)

But there are lines of silver even in the dark sky. ‘There is no one in the village, barring the children, who has not been behind the bars for 15 days or more for protecting our hillock and our tank against the banias (traders).’ informed with a twinkle of pride in her eyes the old woman of Dongripara, (40) The refusal by GSs’ to certify accounts brought the administration to its knees before the Supreme Court in a case relating to Badawani in M.P.(41) ‘If area is not scheduled, go and do the needful,’ asserted the tribals in Karnataka, ‘so far as we are concerned this is Our Law.’(42) The tribal people in Kerala systematically occupied Mathunga degraded forest for rejuvenation and created history by asserting their natural right, reminiscent of Paris Commune.(43)

      • *** ***

And “Who is Afraid of mere ‘gram sabhas’?” in a Regime that had been sanctified by the Regina herself in whose Raj even the Sun never Set. But pragmatists hold that discretion is the better part of valour. Why invite a ‘blind’ and have uninvited two at the feast? The spread of news about such blasphemies is instantaneous that fills the sky; they are received with rapt attention by the ‘Mandarins and their Masters’, who may otherwise be totally innocent about provisions branded seditious.(44) Their sixth sense is in full bloom. ‘Off with her head’, screamed the Queen of Hearts.(45)And came tumbling down GS, the Supreme, in the ‘historic’ Act that stands guarantee for hundred days’ work in a year for one member in every household in every village. The kernel of the process that can be seen through the jumbled ‘ifs and buts’ in the National Employment Guarantee Act (NREG) , in brief, is simple. ‘GS recommends; GP considers, prepares a list in order of priority and submits to ‘Programme Officer’ (PO); PO approves and allots projects to GP for execution; GS monitors and conducts social audit.’ (46)

This scheme will cover 200 districts to begin with, with a promise of extension to the rest in five years. The first instalment will cover, inter alia, the entire tribal tract. Nevertheless the mild reminder in a whisper about the special status of Schedule Five was lost in the frenzied melee engrossed in the count of ‘crumbs’. (47) ‘Back to Square One’ are the Murias of Bastar, but a little ‘wiser’, wondering this time whether their childlike epigram – Obey Thy Servant--- was a childish quirk, having been chastised by the Regina for their inflated sense of Honour and Dignity. The ‘Servant’ designated as ‘Programme Officer’ is in full command of the Operation Employment.

Here is a riddle. The basic tenets of a ‘historic’ scheme like Employment Guarantee (EGS) that concerns every household in the village should be at odds with the most radical feature of PESA, the primacy to ‘We, the people’ of GS embodying the collective wisdom of the village. And by no stretch of imagination, or legal jugglery, EGS can be deemed to be outside the ambit of the powers of GS concerning ‘the plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development…at the village level’, mentioned earlier. The situation becomes rather bizarre in Scheduled Areas. The reversal of the roles of GS and GP amounts to open violation of the Constitution.(48) That is not all. The premise of GS, that comprises ‘We, the People of the Village Assembly’, being supreme proved to be infectious and more. And even the ‘Servant’ has been mandated in some cases to obey the real Master, still a rare exception no doubt to the ‘Rule of the Royal’.(49) The Governments of M.P., Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand had to concede in the face of vox populi. The GS is supreme in matters concerning development even in general areas.(50) The venerable Parliament, rather than going by its own precedent for Scheduled Areas, or even emulating the progressive stance of its four ‘Poor Cousins’ in States, opted for the retrograde stance of the rest. It has blatantly encroached upon, with thunderous applause, the jurisdiction of State Legislatures.(51)

      • *** ***

The truth behind this abominable episode in the Great Hall is bitter and simple. The practice of ‘percentage’ has been accepted as a norm in all schemes of development. It provides the much needed ‘oil’ for smooth running of the wheel of politics in this fabled land that has earned the status of ‘one of the most corrupt countries in the world’. 20 percent, if not more, is realised before sanction, not to speak of the standards decried by Rajiv in his ‘ravaging innocent confession’. (52) Everyone in the System has a price tag and can be managed except the despicable GS. Those who care for their honour must not aspire for the ‘bhutahi’ (haunted) chairs of Panch/ Sarpanch.(53) But the ‘political’ stakes are too high, Rs 40,000 Crores a year just to begin with. Why take risk? ‘Down with GS!’ is the silent war cry!

But the stakes are much higher, perhaps the highest for the tribal land. The flood of ‘unregulated money’, supine obliging bureaucracy, a veritable avalanche with all sorts of middlemen, muscle men and fortune seekers around, is bound to ravage the land of the innocent! And this will not be the first catastrophe, may be perhaps the last, all ostensibly with the best intentions of noblest souls.

The first flood came just after independence in the Grand Era of the Pancha Sheel.(54) The hyenas were the first to arrive from the plains in the lofty hills of Arunachal, the abode of the Sage, They travelled along the roads that were laid in that idyllic land. Panchayats are in full bloom with no place for GS. (55) Down South in Karnataka, the Land of Fame for Elephants in the Wild, the Jenu Kurubas moved away from the sides of roads for the fear of ravage by sarkari ‘Elephants on Jeeps’, onto the abode of elephants deep in the densest forest. They were confident that their ‘brotheren in the wild’ would not mind their ingress and change their track once ‘they get used to our presence in their terrain’. (56) This phase was perhaps full of innocent flaws. Even the Constitutional Commission said ‘No’, with an ‘if ‘ no doubt, to Scheduling of tribal areas. (57)

The second flood occurred in the 1970s, notwithstanding a stern warning well in advance in the very beginning. Indira Gandhi, with her deep concern for growing unrest amongst the innocent, launched the ambitious sub-Plan Strategy for tribal areas. (TSP) (58) Mincing no words, she warned in her note to Home Minister against ‘the policies of the State Governments as are leading to exploitation’, the first ever open official confession, with concrete examples of excise, forests and big industries. ‘As the size of investment will be unprecedented,’ she continued nonchalantly, ‘the main task will be to ensure their proper utilisation; otherwise investment of this order itself will result in dislocating the tribal economy.’ (59) The warning remained unheeded. The ‘crumbs’ of sub-Plans were at the centre of all concerns. The area got flooded with money and also men with ‘history sheets’. There was total failure on both the vital points made by Indira, the Supreme. Even the first preliminary steps about ‘peace and good government’, the central theme of Fifth Schedule, remain to be taken even after 30 years.(60) The sub-Plan has proved to be the most potent instrument of colonial consolidation in the tribal areas.(61) The unprecedented disaffection amongst the tribal people is the natural harvest.

      • *** ***

PESA appeared as a new hope in 1996. It was greeted by the people with abandonment unprecedented.(62) But the innocent are shocked by great chasm between grand precept and ugly reality. Ironically it stands sabotaged by the State itself. (63) With the adoption of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Union Government, the supreme custodian of tribal cause, has itself joined, this time openly, the Demolition Squad. It has now no face even to say a gentle ‘please’ to all sorts of operators, including the ‘rogue’ States, in full action under the banner of ‘Global Village’. (64) The use of Constitutional authority, reposed in the Union with trust, therefore, is a far cry. In any case, it has never been used even in the hay days of commitment to socialism--equity and justice—even as the tribe’s hapless innocence has forced them to the brink.(65)

The loss of moral authority of the Union in this episode is ominous. With what face can the insolent rulers preach the ‘angry youth’ to ‘mend’ their ways and follow the garden path of so-called ‘law’ and the Constitution? (66) They are ‘rebels against the State’ that has earned for itself, by its own acts of commission and omission, the hideous Image of Evil Personified.

Yet, all is not over, But… Mere homilies about unrest in the wild, acknowledged as a socio-economic problem, will not do. They add fuel to fire, as misdeeds under the cover of double talk stand exposed. The treatment meted out to PESA and the unabashed trampling of the Constitution, that too in respect of the dignity and honour of the assembly of the village, can prove to be the proverbial ‘last straw’. Amends must be made, here and now, with sincere apology for deed-misdeeds and a pledge to abandon the path of ‘conspiracy of silence’ (67) on vital issues concerning the people.

      • *** ***

‘Dignity, not Crumbs’(68) is the central issue of the political economy of this great nation that is especially agitating the tribal people at the moment. The legacy of Raj must be discarded forthwith with the contempt it richly deserves, to begin with at least in the Scheduled Areas. The commitment henceforth has to be unequivocal to nurse true democracy whose legal edifice has already been laid, inadvertently though in idealist vein, in these areas. The Father of Nation has been forgotten and written off as an Idealist. Will the ‘inheritors of the Raj’ care to look at the ‘pragmatic’ advice of ‘their father’, Sir A.O. Hume, and start the new sojourn, holding the banner high with epochal epigram ‘Trust the People’, even at this late stage after long 145 years?

Notes and References

1. The Standing Committee on Rural Development (2004-2005) of Fourteenth Lok Sabha observed that the constitution of local bodies after the implementation of PESA is different in the Scheduled Areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The Committee specifically recommended that village panchayats should be made accountable to Gram Sabhas.

2. The ‘Royal’ are the venerable political leaders and the ‘Loyal’ their obedient civil servants. Both of them, so far as the people are concerned, are their Lordships addressed as ‘Huzur’, ‘Hukum’, ‘Agya’, or simple plain ‘Sir’.

3. Allen Octavian Hume I.C.S. while resigning from the coveted Service, which became the fabled ‘Steel Frame’, poignantly observed that the basic premise on which the Raj was founded was ‘Distrust of People, Trust in the System’. He categorically stated that there could be no peace unless this premise is changed and a new beginning is made with ‘Trusting the People’. This was 1860, soon after the rack and ruin of the so-called ‘Sepoy Mutiny’.

4. When Gandhi, the ‘Naked Fakir’ (ascetic) was asked about his vision of India after Independence, his simple answer was a ‘Grand Federation of seven lakh (.7 million) Village-Republics’?. He summed up his perspective about the political economy of Independent India in the form of a ‘touchstone for all actions’. “I will give you a talisma (magic wand). Whenever you are in doubt about the purpose of any action, which you may be proposing to take, bring before your mind’s eye the humblest man in the country and ask yourself about its usefulness for that man. If your action benefits him, you proceed without hesitation. Otherwise, it is meaningless”.

5. ‘All powers to the Soviets (the Russian term for ‘village’)’ was the clarion call of V. I. Lenin, whose name is still synonymous with Revolution in the service of ‘socialism’ with ‘communism’ as the next and the final stage.

6. A classic case from M.P. will illuminate the prevailing administrative ethos. The dung of cattle was declared as ‘minor forest produce’ in the State. ‘Claiming sovereignty over cattle dung, the Collector and Commissioner were gracious enough to offer a payment for tribal’s labour in collecting the dung.’ When the State’s claim was challenged in the Court, the stand was resolutely defended against the people. As succinctly put by Prof Upendra Baxi, ‘The Chainpura denizens here were pitted against the strength of a colonial legislation enforced with vigour by a post-colonial State claiming sovereignty over shit…An administrative culture, which concerns itself primarily with the ‘welfare of the state’ (not of the people), must indeed make violation of subject-people’s right an official obligation, if not a virtue.’ (See R 13 p 27)

7. The statement finalised by Gandhiji on 29th January 1948 became his ‘Last Testament’. He was assassinated on the next day. He gave a call for winding up the Indian National Congress with an appeal to all active members to spread out in villages where the next phase of struggle must begin after political Independence.

8. ‘Begar’ (Forced Labour) was abolished vide Article 23 of the Constitution.

9. When Gandhiji was appraised about the progress in the framing of Constitution, he was inquisitive about the place of ‘village’ and the ‘farmer’ therein. ‘There is not even an allusion about them’ was the simple reply. ‘For which country is the Constitution being framed?’ asked Gandhi, with ‘no use!’ as the concluding aside. He shared his concern with people through ‘Harijan’, his paper. Congress was agitated. A formal resolution was passed advising Hon’able party members in the Assembly to make necessary amends.

10. Article 40 was accordingly incorporated in the Constitution that finally ran as: “40. Organisation of Village Panchayats—The? State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.” The Grand Assembly was repeatedly assured that this formulation would imbibe the spirit of Gram Swaraj or Village Republic.

11. This Trust was betrayed. ‘Panchayat’ in the traditional system comprises the open assembly of the village. It may nominate, through consensus, ‘panchas’ for the day or for an issue. The panchas conclude the deliberations placing the consensus before the assembly whose decision is final. This practice is in vogue in many areas even now. The formal panchayat system has no place for such an open assembly. The term ‘panchayat’ is generally defined as a body comprising elected panchas. Moreover, even the broad outlines of a possible frame for the village to function as ‘a unit of self-government’, has not been attempted to date.

12. In the opening debate on the Resolution about Aims and Objectives of the Constitution, Jaipal Singh from Jharkhand, which literally means ‘Land of Forests’, pointedly observed: ‘This Resolution is not going to teach Adibasis democracy…You have to learn democratic ways form them. They are the most democratic people on earth’. Rev.J.M.M. Nichols Roy from Khasi Hills, now Meghalaya (the Abode of Clouds), said that our ‘tribes, though small in themselves, have been self-governing bodies from time immemorial’. Khan Abdulgaffar Khan, a member of the Constituent Assembly before partition hailing from the North-Western? Provinces, popularly known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’, stated with humility and pride: ’We may be behind in literacy and wealth, but I can say the people of the North-West? Frontier Province, if not ahead, are in no way behind you in many things.’

13. Rajiv Gandhi took a bold and crucial decision in 1987 to put the elaborate frame of Panchayats in the Constitution. But the hon’ble members of Parliament foiled his resolve. There was no quorum (50) when leave was sought to introduce the ‘historic’ Constitution Amendment Bill, 1988.

14. This Bill envisaged exclusion of the Scheduled Areas from its purview with a provision to extend the same with suitable exceptions and modification. This was a personal decision of Rajiv based on his experience during extensive familiarization visits to tribal areas and serious deliberations that he had about the state of virtual revolt in some areas.

15. The 73rd Amendment added Part IX to the constitution dealing exclusively with Panchayats. Clause (1) of Article 243 M excludes, inter alia, the Scheduled Areas (SA) from the purview of Part IX, while. Clause (4) (b) authorized the Parliament to extend the same to SA ‘subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified’. The Union Government took no action in this regard, which created legal vacuum about Panchayats in SA.

16. The Joint Select Committee of the Parliament, in its deliberations on the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Bill (1992) unanimously resolved to drop ‘Gram Sabha’ from its provisions. The provision remained unchanged because of invisible influence of some inconvenient civil servants.

17. The Panchayat Laws that were enacted by the States in 1993 missed the vital exclusion of SA. Accordingly these laws covered the entire States including SA. The Panchayats constituted under this law, therefore, had no Constitutional mandate.

18. The Murias of Bastar are one of the most democratic people in the country, perhaps the world. The are freedom loving but ferocious. The Chief in the village is just ‘number one amongst equals’. Bastar had been kept out of the formal Panchayat System from the very beginning after its merger in C.P. & Berar. A special provision had been made for ‘adivasi panchayats’ in the law. Thus the formal Panchayat system appeared in Bastar for the first time in 1993, which ironically, as noted in 17 above, had no authority of law. The childlike inquisitiveness about the new System was natural to the simple folks in Bastar.

19. A pamphlet highlighting the inherent contradiction of Panchayat Law, “ Pita ki Bat par Vichar, Naukar ki Agya ka Palan; Yahi Hai Mahan Panchayat Raj Vyastha ka Sar” (‘Consider the Advice of thy Father and Obey thy Servant! That is the Essence of Panchayat Raj, the Great!!’), found its way to Bhopal, the State Capital and the Cabinet. The message was cryptic but clear. The sensitive souls amended the law to make advice of Father-GS binding on GP, the Son. But position of ‘Servant-Collector’ remained intact.

20. The Union Government declared ‘1999’ as the ‘Year of Gram Sabha’ that was celebrated with usual fanfare.

21. A Committee of Select Members of Parliament and Experts (Chairman: Shri Dileep Singh Bhuria) was appointed in 1994 to suggest ‘exceptions and modifications’ in Part IX of the Constitution concerning Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas. It submitted its Report on 15.1.1995.

22. The Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh declared the application of State Panchayat Law to SA ultra virus because Part IX of the Constitution concerning Panchayats itself had not been extended to those areas. This judgment brought the recommendations of Bhuria Committee to lime light. There was a spate of successful Writ Petitions in many other States as well.

23. The tribal assertion of self-governance took a new turn in late 1980s with declarations of ‘Mava Nate Mava Raj’ (‘Our Village Our Rule’ in Gondi language) in gathering at Sangam, a remote village in Bastar. This proved to be infectious because it gave expression to their deep seated inner conviction. Self-governance is intrinsic to the very existence and identity of a community. Moreover, the tribal people are associated with a habitat on which they depend for their livelihood. Therefore the right of self-governance including command over resources in their respective habitats is a ‘natural’ right. It existed before the formation of legal State. It will continue even after the State ‘withers away’. The fact of formal incorporation in a law or otherwise does not affect the status of a ‘natural right’. It is important to note that that this ‘natural right’ is implicit in the Constitutional schema for the tribal people. (See R 13 and R 14)

24. The Bhuria Committee had examined the issues concerning self-governance in a holistic frame uninhibited by any other consideration and made comprehensive recommendations. It called for a radical change in the system of governance especially at the village level. It must be founded on the traditions and customs of the people. (See R 2 and R 8)

25. The people’s demand culminated in an indefinite fast at Rajghat in Delhi in February 1996.It ended after the Union Government assured to accept Bhuria Committee Recommendations and enact a suitable law.

26. The concept of ‘endowment’ or even ‘devolution’ of powers to the Gram Sabha, a body comprising ‘We, the People of Village Assembly’, by any authority including the Parliament comprising the people’s representatives is incongruous in a real democracy. The position of formal Panchayats is different. They are artifacts of the State and depend totally on the State for their role and powers. Therefore, the provision in Article 243A, which envisages ‘endowment’ of powers on Gram Sabha, violates the basic premise of ‘community’s natural right of self-governance’. It is especially so in tribal areas where self-governance is a living tradition. Accordingly the ‘natural right’ concept was accepted in PESA. The formulation concerning GS in Clause (d) of Section 4 merely creates space for ‘GS’ in the Constitution and acknowledges its ‘competence’ for self-governance. It is silent about endowment of powers to GS. It envisages “ Every Gram Sabha shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of dispute resolution.”

27. The relationship between GS and GP under PESA is clear. GP is unequivocally answerable to GS as provided under clauses (e) and (f) of Section 4-

(e) Every Gram Sabha shall: - ''(i) approve plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development before such plans, programmes and projects are taken up for implementation by the Panchayat at the village level; and (ii) be responsible for the identification or selection of persons as beneficiaries under the poverty alleviation and other programmes; (f) every Panchayat at the village level shall be required to obtain from the Gram Sabha a certificate for utilization of funds by the Panchayat for the plans, programmes and projects referred to in clause (e)'' ;

28. What can be more radical than the adage ‘Always Speak the Truth’? The formulation of PESA flows from the simple proposition ‘Our Village, Our Rule’, which is also the living reality of simple tribal life. There was no scope of difference of opinion about a Bill that aimed at erasing the dissonance between the ‘real life situation’ and the ‘legal frame’. The rulers unconcerned with ‘trivialities of tribal life’ did not realize that this very dissonance, ‘Imperialist Frame vis-à-vis Democratic Polity’ has been the central issue of the post Independence Indian scene.

29. Please see R5 (pp v to vii) for narration of the entire episode.

30. Once the people internalize an idea and are prepared to stand by the same, it gets transformed in a material force. The gains, in terms of the confidence engendered amongst the people and the moral authority they acquired with PESA, are incommensurable.

31. A Survey conducted by the National Institute of Rural Development, Hydrabad in 2004 revealed that about 95 per cent of senior officers in the Scheduled Areas were unaware about the provisions of PESA. A Collector and District Magistrate when pressed by the people about powers of GS under PESA retorted - ‘there are stacks and stacks of laws, forget about PESA, go and burn it!’

32. Human suffering or ‘change of worn out cogs’ is no cost in the economics of capitalist development. Entire communities are facing displacement, disorganization, destitution and demise running into scores of millions. Flooded is this fairyland with liquor, unprecedented in its history, reminiscent with vengeance of the policy of Raj, Raising Revenue; Bridling Unbridled, but with a vital difference. This time it is being done against the declared policy of the State (See N 60 below) and open violation of provisions of PESA. ‘Models of Physic for Text Book Illustration’ in the Wild have been reduced to Famished Skeletons. Taboo are such blasphemous themes in the holy discourses of a Great Nation committed to a Greater Cause of Global Village.

33. An articulate civil servant turned politician in the course of a discussion about the socio-economic situation in the country stated nonchalantly: ‘Tell us how long in this country can we afford to carry the mill-stone of these poor round our necks? We have to move with the time!’ This is the inner voice of the ‘haves’ in this country that could not be openly given vent to earlier. It can now be trumpeted from the ‘hilltop of Raisina’ in the new era of ‘survival of the fittest’. The innocent tribal, with the exception of a handful that have made the grade, is literally not ‘fit’ to survive.

34. Bastar with its fabulous treasure of natural resources but rebellious tribes, ironically pitched against the State from the very beginning, has been an enigma for politicians and administrators alike. The establishment of Bailadila Iron Ore Mines, dedicated exclusively to export, was an ‘event by default’. The restless tribals have successfully resisted a series of projects including the ambitious Bastar Pine Project and Bodhghat Hydroelectric Project. The attempts to establishment a steel plant at Mavalibhata was foiled in 1993 by them even though it had all party support with ovation. The enactment of PESA in 1996 formally transformed the equations between the people and the State. The next attempt at Hiranar in 2001 was also successfully resisted by the people on their own, but with a difference. The administration was on the defensive this time in view of extraordinary powers of the Gram Sabha under PESA. The next attempt was, therefore, made in the same year, but drawing lessons from earlier reversals. The site was carefully selected near the district Headquarter in villages with mixed population. Even here, the State had to use all its might including destruction of record, forging of documents, untold repression and blatant trampling of the Constitution itself. (For details see R9)

35. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes formally submitted a Special Report on Nagarnar Episode to the President in 2003 under Article 338 of the Constitution. The outcome is not known as yet.

36. Land has been acquired in nine villages in Pachwara region of Pakur District in Jharkhand. The Learned Advocate General informed the Hon’ble Court that ‘people of the nine villages… had been consulted’; their only request was for proper compensation. The Court was satisfied that a scheme of development and rehabilitation had been submitted to the Ministry. The resolute blockade by the people for years, the mandatory consultation with the Gram Sabhas, comprising ‘We, the People of the Village Assembly’, the collective will and wisdom of the people appear to have been treated as irrelevant not worthy of even a passing reference in the Judgment.

37. Faced with resistance from GS in land acquisition for a project, the Collector of Udaipur decided to attend its meeting himself. He was accompanied by other officers and police. The S.D.O. took the liberty of adding a sentence about ‘consensus favouring acquisition’ in the proceedings in his own hand in the open assembly that was shocked. In his submission before National Commission, the Collector admitted the fact but concluded with the ‘innocent’ query about ‘assisting’ GS.

38. The Reaction was spontaneous and sharp in the beginning. It mellowed with time. Certification of accounts by GS is now an accepted norm.

39. The prosecution is continuing, but Sarpanch was defeated in 2005 elections. The GS under new leadership resolved not to pay a single paisa as ‘percentage’, for any work of any cost!

40. Contractors were not allowed, but the tyranny of numbers continued in the combined GS with the neighbouring bazaar village comprising largely trader population. Dongaripara, therefore, opted out of it constituting a separate GS that is enjoying real self-governance.

41. A group of GSs working in unison refused to certify accounts unless the issues of unauthorized use of tractors and forged muster rolls in food for work programme were settled. Their stand was vindicated in the Supreme Court that ordered direct payment in GSs.

42. The celebration of PESA and assertion of self-rule there under was objected to in Karnataka by a Minister and also the officials on the ground that there are no Scheduled Areas. The cryptic remark silenced the objectors and forced them to initiate proposals for scheduling of areas.

43. The Gotram Mahasabha of tribal people of Kerala prepared a plan for rejuvenating the extensive Mathunga forest, now totally degraded, which was traditionally their habitat. Selected families under the aegis of Mahasabha moved into the area with a clear work plan. The new ‘people’s republic’ lasted 40 days until a brutal crack down by the State shaking the people of the entire State to the core. The people from the wild have for change forced the enlightened people of Kerala to have a fresh look at the nature of real democracy.

44. Alice in Wonderland

45. GS in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is merely a recommendatory body.

46. The relevant provisions of Section 16 of NREG Act are as follows: ''(1) The Gram Panchayat shall be responsible for identification of the projects in the Gram Panchayat area to be taken up in a Scheme as per the recommendations of the Gram Sabha and the Ward Sabha and for executing and supervising such works. (2) A Gram Panchayat may take up any project under a Scheme within the area of the Gram Panchayat as may be sanctioned by the Programme Officer''. Thus the power of sanctioning a Project in the village is squarely with a government servant.

47. During the concluding debate in the House on NREG Bill, Shri Kishore Chandra Deo M.P. from A.P, invited attention to the recommendations of the Standing Committee about the central role of GS especially in SA. The request was not conceded. The House was, however, assured that it would be taken care of in the rules. There is not even an inkling of apology that it amounts to violation of the Constitution itself.

48. Part IX of the Constitution concerning Panchayats has been extended to the SA with exceptions and modifications as envisaged in PESA. But PESA is not limited to matters concerning Panchayats alone. It deals with the entire governance at the village and even higher levels in SA. Thus, ‘Part IX with exceptions and modifications’ (in brief ‘Part IX-EM’), and ‘not Part IX’, is the Constitution for Scheduled Areas. The relationship between GS and GP in the SA is defined in Part IX-EM. This relationship, sanctified by the Constitution, has been reversed by the Parliament in NREG Act. This reversal is an open violation of the provisions of Part IX-EM of the Constitution, and hence unconstitutional.

49. In striking contrast to the regression at top, the people in the tribal areas have been internalising the logic of supremacy of GS. They are questioning the premises that hitherto were closed preserves of the rulers beyond the reach of the plebeians. If GP is the Executive of GS that is supreme, how is it the Sarpanch presides over the meetings of GS? In the case of Parliament, it is the Speaker, not the Prime Minister, who presides. The Government of Madhya Pradesh had to relent. A special provision was made in the M.P. Panchayat Act in respect of SA that prohibits any member of the Panchayat from presiding over the meetings of the GS. (See R 5, p 71) This broke the stranglehold of the ‘trio’, viz, ‘Sarpanch, Secretary and concerned Government Servants’. (SSS in brief) Another unusual provision has been made in the M.P. Land Revenue Code. If GS is not able to restore illegally alienated land of a tribal, ‘it shall refer the matter to the Sub-Divisional? Officer, who shall restore the possession of such land within three months from the date of receipt of the reference.’ (See R 5, p 77)

50. The Legislatures of four States, namely, MP, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have adopted the provisions of PESA even for the general areas in respect of the programmes of socioeconomic development at the village level as reproduced in N 27 above.

51. ‘Local government’ including ‘village administration’ is exclusively a state subject specified in entry 5 of the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. This position has been maintained in Articles 243A and 243G of Part IX. They envisage that the Legislature of a State may endow such powers respectively on the GS and GP, as it may deem necessary. Thus Panchayat Laws of these four States envisage prior approval of GS before a GP can take up any programme of social and economic development in the village. The NREG Act, however, envisages only a recommendatory role for GS. The power to approve EGS programmes vests with the Programme Officer. EGS is, par excellence, a programme of social and economic development. This programme, therefore, must follow the frame of State Law. The Union cannot impose conditions in violation of State laws, even through a Central Legislation, simply because it is funding a programme. In the case of EGS, the Union has blatantly transgressed into State’s legislative jurisdiction.

52. Rajiv Gandhi made the ravaging frank but innocent ‘confession’ in a mammoth meeting at Gumla in Jharkhand: ‘Alas! Only Rs 15 reach the people out of a hundred that I dispatch’.

53. The seat of Sarpanch has become ‘haunted’ in some States. He no longer chairs the GS meetings. Therefore he has to face, as an ordinary member, a barrage of questions about payment of wages, cost of materials, etc. Moreover since GS is the supreme decision-making body, the Sarpanch has to abide by even its inconvenient decisions.

54. Jawahar Lal Nehru the first Prime Minister gave the five principles or panchasheel of tribal affairs. ‘Enabling the tribal people to develop according to their own genius’ comprises the spirit that the State was expected to imbibe in dealing with them.

55. Varrier Elvin authored the ‘Policy for NEFA’ (North Eastern Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh) imbibing the spirit of panchasheel. When roads were constructed, in good faith, for improving accessibility, the hyenas from the plains were the first to arrive in the idyllic hills along those roads. The process continues. The authors of Panchayat Raj in 1993 forgot about the great tradition of self-governance in Arunachal and made no special provision for it like PESA. The traditional system of self-governance has no place in the State Panchayat Law. This omission has rendered the tribal people in Arunachal most vulnerable and virtually defenseless.

56. Please see R15 p

57. The first Scheduled Areas and the Scheduled Tribes Commission (Chairman: U.N.Dhebar) was appointed in 1960 under Article 339 of the Constitution. The Commission did not consider the proposals for scheduling of tribal areas on the ground that the Legislatures of concerned States could make suitable laws for their protection and advancement. This innocent but faulty premise has had disastrous for the tribal people in many areas, especially in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Uttar Pradesh.

58. The new policy of ‘tribal sub-plan’ (TSP) was adopted in 1970s in the wake of simmering tribal unrest. This Policy had two co-equal pillars, (i) protection against exploitation in all forms using the provisions of the Fifth Schedule and (ii) ear marked financial outlays to adequately cover all genuine needs of development and good governance in the tribal areas. There was total failure on ‘protection front’ even after a determined beginning under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. The deluge of money continued with added vigour, sponsored by the vested interests that had tasted the blood and got entrenched in these areas with no ‘lagam’ (reins) on account of failure on the former front.

59. The Minute of Indira Gandhi, dated 19th June 1974, addressed to the Home Minister, became the cornerstone of TSP strategy. (Quoted in R 14, pp 151-154 ) Incidentally in the early phase of TSP the Ministry of Home Affairs had been charged with the responsibility of tribal affairs to ensure strong and effective leadership in the Union Government.

60. There has been blatant reversal of policy about excise as noted in N 32 above. The forest issue is still in discussion notwithstanding admission of ‘historical injustice’ by the State. Less said the better about the industry and mining front. Even the commitment to the Parliament to make sub-plan areas and the Scheduled Areas co-extensive is hanging half way in the air. The first regulation for good governance remains to be made.

61. See R 1, pp

62. 24th December is celebrated in countless villages as a day of ‘Rise of Village Republics’. Stone Edicts have been raised in traditional style with the message at the top: ‘Highest is the Gram Sabha, Higher than the Parliament’. The main provisions of PESA are given in a simple form that the people can follow. (See R 4 for details)

63. The crucial provisions of PESA have not been incorporated in the State Panchayat Laws in their true spirit; nor have the relevant Central and State laws been suitably amended. The biggest irony is that even the most progressive State of M.P., which has incorporated Gram Swaraj in the Panchayat law, has not issued guidelines for the functioning of Gram Sabha, in the face of adverse bureaucratic pressure. The arena has been kept free for minions to operate, PESA or no PESA.

64. The ‘silent’ and cryptic message about Gram Sabha in the NREG Act is blasphemous and ominous. The Gram Sabha comprising ‘We, the People of the Village Assembly’ is not worthy of trust even in matters concerning employment, let alone the Grand Design of Development that is unfolding especially in the tribal areas under the benevolent guidance of Great Corporations and the best brains of the Global Village. The community, and community alone can meet this challenge that has started shaking the tribal areas. The honour of GS must be retrieved at any cost.

65. The executive power of the State Government in relation to the Scheduled Areas is subject to the provisions of the Fifth Schedule, which empowers the Union to give suitable directions to the States about administration of SA. Not a single direction has been issued under this provision so far even as the tribal people have been forced to the brink in countless areas.

66. According to a senor officer associated with tribal areas from early days, the agenda of talks between the Naxals and Government of A. P. reminds him of the work-chart of a good Naib-Tahsildar?, the last executive in the state hierarchy. The Agenda included grievance-redressal machinery, implementation of land reforms, restoration of unlawfully alienated tribal lands, and such like. Is this revolution for negotiation at the apex? It is indicative of total collapse of so-called law and order in these areas, which for the sake of form, no one is prepared to talk about..

67. The nation was agog during last general elections with war cries about farmers’ suicides coupled with agrarian crisis. Nevertheless they were all cautious about not touching the root causes such as continuing slave status of village India, insidious expropriation from rural especially agricultural economy, depressed entitlement of work in agriculture by treating it as ‘unskilled’, genocidal terms of agricultural credit specially levy of compound interest in violation of the law of the land. ‘A Critique of Agrarian Crisis’ focusing on these vital issues with demise of the farmer as the natural finale evoked no response from the entire political establishment and even the radical scholars of political economy. Here we are face to face with the ‘conspiracy of silence’ amongst the rulers of all hues and their associates on vital issues facing the common man. (See R 12 for details.)

68. ’15 out of 100’, the shocking formulation of Rajiv, told only a part of the story. ‘From where does this ‘100’ come?’ is never asked. 900 out of every 1,000 that is expropriated, in the final analysis, from rural India is shared by the ‘top-ten’ in various forms. And the leftover 100 is thrown as ‘crumbs’, carefully spaced and timed, amongst the rural folks to keep them engrossed in the ‘eternal’ dog-like scramble for every bit. This degeneration must be revesed. Unequivocal restoration of ‘Dignity’ of toiling masses with the national ethos ‘Uttam Kheti’ for India that still lives in its villages, and ‘not Crumbs’, can be the only answer to the unprecedented Crisis in all walks of life that we have been forced to face by the demonic Global Imperialist Capitalist Combine.

References:

1. Globalisation: The Tribal Encounter, 1993, pp 164, Rs.40

2. Whither Tribal Areas?, 1996, pp 120, Rs. 125

3. Tide Turned, 1997, pp 44, Rs. 15

4. The Rise of Little Republics, 1997, pp 25, Rs. 12

5. Self-Rule? Laws, Madhya Pradesh-Gram? Sabha, 1998, 90, Rs 40

6. Self-Rule? Laws, Orissa-Gram? Sabha, 1998, 64, Rs.30

7. Fifty Years of Anti-‘Panchayat’ Raj, 2004,pp 242, Rs. 125

8. Tribal Affairs in India, 2001, pp 514, Rs. 500

9. The Besieged, 2002, pp 144, Rs 20

10. crime Against Democracy in Nagarnar, 2001, 16, Rs 5

11. Against Imperialism, 2005, pp 100, Rs 25

12. A Critique of Agrarian Crisis, 2004, pp 60, Rs.10

13. Dalits Betrayed, Second Edition, 2000, pp 216, Rs. 295

Official Documents

14. Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (1986-87)

15. Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (19887-89)

Note: The above References comprise writings of Dr. B.D.Sharma and published by Sahyog Pustak Kuteer, 11 A, Naglirajapur, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi, 110013 Tel: 011-24353997 e-mail:

Permission to upload this is granted by B.D.Sharma on October 03 2005


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