Scheduled Areas in India are predominantly inhabited by the tribal population who have been managing their natural resources and governing social, economic and political life in their habitat through a well-knit system of ancient customs and practices. However, in the wake of modernization, these age-old institutions of self-governance are fast becoming extinct. In the era of this unprecedented social change, the imperative need was felt to usher the tribals in the mainstream of development efforts without disturbing or destroying their cultural identity and socio-economic milieu to meet this challenge. To achieve this objective, the Government constituted a Committee under the chairmanship of Shri Dilip Singh Bhuria in 1994, popularly called “Bhuria Committee” to examine various dimensions of self-rule for tribals, the constitutional requirements and to make recommendations for extending the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution to the Scheduled Areas. Important recommendations of Bhuria Committee, inter alia, included:
(i) The schemes should pre-eminently be related to participative democracy, particularly at the grassroots and district levels.
(ii) The Gram Sabha at the hamlet/village level should exercise traditional functions such as management of land, forest, water and air.
(iii) States should consider reorganisation of the boundaries based on ethnic, demographic and geographic considerations.
(iv) Tribal aspirations can be satisfied if tribal regions are conferred sub-state status. Grant of autonomous district council status for districts in central Indian tribal tracts will be in the nature of sub-federalism.
(v) The basic lacunae in the Land Acquisition Act have to be removed. The consent of the local village community should be obligatory. The rehabilitation package should be operated with the consent of the local village community. Viable and acceptable package of livelihood should be offered as a means of rehabilitation to the affected families.
(vi) The lower functionaries of departments/government servants posted in the autonomous districts should be under the control of the district councils.
(vii) The tribal community should be regarded as in command of the economic resources. The districts and other councils should make appropriate laws for regulation of land and other resources for industries.
On the basis of report of Bhuria Committee submitted in 1995, the Parliament enacted PESA Act, 1996 for its applicability to Fifth Schedule Areas and tribal areas as per article 243M of the Constitution.
The salient features of PESA are given below:
- The legislature of a State shall not make any law inconsistent with the basic features of the Central Law.
- The Village shall ordinarily consist of a habitation or a group of habitations or a hamlet or a group of hamlets. Further, every such village shall have a Gram Sabha.
- Every Gram Sabha is competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and customary modes of dispute resolution.
- Recommendations by Gram Sabha or Panchayat are mandatory prior to grant of prospective license or mining leases.
- The Gram Sabhas or Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before making acquisition of land in the Scheduled Areas for development projects and before settling or rehabilitating persons affected by such projects.
- The Panchayats at the appropriate level and the Gram Sabha to exercise control over institutions and functionaries in all social sectors.
- As political empowerment is the beginning of economic development, hence there is a reservation of a minimum of 50 percent of the seats for the members of the tribal communities and also all posts of chairpersons in the Scheduled Areas for tribals.
- The Gram Sabha is empowered to approve plans, programmes and projects, issue utilization certificates, select beneficiaries for poverty alleviation and other programmes.
- The Gram Sabha is empowered to prevent alienation of tribal land and to order for the restoration of the alienated tribal lands.
- The Gram Sabha is empowered to manage the community resources and has been vested with the ownership of minor forest produce.
- PESA also empowers the Gram Sabha to have control over sale and consumption of intoxicants in its area.
- Empowers the Gram Sabha to exercise control over money lending to Scheduled Tribes.
- The Gram Sabha is empowered to manage village markets.
- Empowers the Panchayats at appropriate level to manage minor water bodies.