Bhubaneswar, 11/08 ( Odisha Samachar/Dipti Ranjan Kanungo ) – Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, the Outfit which struggled for the enactment of historic Forest Rights Act, 2006 and presently monitoring its proper implementation in the State has urged the Govt. of Odisha to review the ongoing 3 tire Panchayatiraj System in rural Odisha and to adopt FRA-Gram Sabha establishing direct democracy in the villages.
Acknowledging the commitment shown by BJD and Congress Party in their election manifestos in the last General and Assembly Election, 2014 to reorganize the PRI system in Odisha and strengthening the grass root democracy. “While BJD has committed to establish “Panchayat in every Village having 1000 Population and to extend financial autonomy”, Congress Party has gone one step ahead and has committed that “Each revenue village would be converted into a Panchayat extending power over 29 subjects”. CSD has categorically urged all the political parties in general and ruling BJD to go one step ahead and declare “one village one Panchayat irrespective of revenue and forest/un-surveyed village in the line of FRA, 2006 and PESA, 1996. “Now under FRA, 2006 all these forest and un-surveyed villages are to be converted into revenue villages soon.” CSD said.
CSD has condemned the Govt. of Odisha for diluting the empowered Gram Sabha under FRA and PESA while implementing these Acts in the State. CSD has made the ongoing “Panchayatiraj System” of the State responsible for the dilution of FRA-Gram Sabha. It asserted that “Despite the progressive and empowered Gram sabha provisions under FRA and PESA, the FRA Gram Sabha could not evolved because of the PR system.”Citing an example, CSD ascertained that Govt. of Odisha openly violated the provisions of “2/3 Quorum” of the FRA Gram Sabha under Section 4(2) of Forest Rights Rules in the Circular vide letter No.40373/SSD Dated, on 21.11.08 which emphasized on the one/tenth quorum of the Palli Sabha which is even not required once the Secretary of Panchayat certify it. Accordingly, the “2/3 quorum” of the FRA Gram Sabha has been consciously bypassed by Govt. of Odisha. Even the Civil Society Organizations who should have worked to ensure FRA Gram Sabha in the State have failed to ensure it while facilitating FRA implementation in the State.
Reacting over the recent decision of the BJD Govt. of Odisha “on the presence of MLA in the Palli Sabha and Gram Sabha for selection of beneficiaries under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) and Mo Kudia schemes” CSD, Odisha condemned the Govt. of Odisha for disrespecting the grassroots democracy and politicization of the Gram Sabha. It contended that “It is unfortunate that like bureaucrats, even the politicians irrespective of any political party(BJD, Congress and BJP) now do not have even faith over the capacity and competency of the Gram Sabha- the grass roots democracy”. “The biggest irony is that even many so called intellectuals, academicians also do not have faith over the capacity and competency of community people living in the villages”.
Pointing out the loopholes in the existing PR system, CSD, Odisha has categorically contended that “the PR system is the ever biggest joke and farce in the name of decentralization of democracy. In this system neither the village is recognized as ‘self governing body” nor there is any importance of the community which is clearly evident from the one/tenth quorum (provided no quorum is required when it is adjourned due to required of quorum).” “Neither the community people nor the people’s representatives are empowered while bureaucracy are over empowered under this Act.” “It is far away from the vision of the father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi i.e “One Village-One Country” “Self Reliant Village” etc. It is observed that the very purpose of the PRI has been for the implementation anti-poverty programmes and to carry out developmental, construction activities in top-to-bottom approach.”
Narrating the consequences of PRI in last six decades, CSD has opined that “PRI has adversely affected the traditional village system of “community governance” and had made community totally dependent upon the State Government for 3F(fund, functionary and function). By adopting the Gram Sabha at Panchayat and Palli Sabha at revenue village level by passing Hamlet and forest village levels, the Govt. of Odisha has made the community/village Sabha as ‘Sarkari Sabha’ in which the community people hardly have any role to play in governance of its resources(land water and forest”. “Even they don’t have right to hold meeting as and when they decide, they don’t have rights to write the proceeding of the meeting and even they don’t have rights to keep their own resolution at them. Even the Collector has been so empowered that any time he can dismiss a elected Sarpanch and can declare any palli sabha/gram sabha meeting as null and void.” CSD cried.
CSD has also raised concern over the “election system in party line and investment in village level election”. It contented that “this has divided the community at gram sabha. Besides, a number of departmental government committees imposed over the Gram Sabha, formation of number of SHGs within a village having different interest have weakened the backbone of the Gram Sabha.” Of course, even the traditional gram sabha do have number of sub-groups based on caste, religion etc but they are always been one so far the issue of village is concern.” “In tribal areas, the selection of the leaders is based on a tradition which has lost its importance and relevance in the existing PRI system. Even we have a number of instances where the communities have unanimously selected their representatives in non scheduled area too. In this context, CSD has demanded for “State Funding Election System” for the Village level election.
CSD has also charged that “in the existing Panchaytiraj system, Government at the all level believes the community as incompetent. They have misunderstanding that community people can’t take decision by themselves. Also under the existing system, Govt. does not have faith over them etc. This is why the government keeps one Govt. person (official) in every village level committees.”
However, the Government of India in the Central PESA, 1996 Govt. for the first time constitutionally admitted that the community people are competent enough to take decision and can govern themselves. PESA also considered the “One village-One Gram Sabha” irrespective of revenue or forest or un-surveyed. But, Govt. of Odisha while applying the Central PESA in 1997s bypassed it, diluted it by extending the same provisions of PRI of the Non- Scheduled Area to the Scheduled Areas. CSD has opined that the very objective behind the constitutional provisions of Scheduled 5th, Scheduled 6th and PESA, 1996 has been to protect these areas so that tribal living in these areas can be better protected. Forest Rights Acts 2006 and its Rules has not only revived all most all provisions of the Central PESA Act but also has extended the provisions of the PESA even to all non-scheduled area of the State. FRA has also provided to recognize “PTG Habitat” under section (1) (e). It has particularly provided that “one village would have its own Gram Sabha taking its all adult members.” Like PESA it recognizes the Gram Sabha in all villages irrespective of revenue or forest. It recognizes the Gram Sabha as the “Authority” over its resources (land, water and forest).It consider Gram Sabha-the General Body” as the decision making body in which decision would be taken in the presence of all and not by its executive only. The quorum of the Gram Sabha was 2/3 (66 out of 100) which have now been reduced to at least 51% (simple majority). It gives freedom to the community people to hold Gram Sabha meeting as and when they wish. “Thus FRA has discarded the “Decision Making by Executive”/ “Decision by People Representative” and aims at “Direct Democracy” at Gram Sabha. It emphasized the principle of “One Village One Gram Sabha-One -Panchayat and discard the principle of Gram Panchayat which has been the institution of corruption and Malpractices.” CSD asserted.
Of course, the General Body has a number of its Executive Committees (ECs) for implementation of its decisions. Even the Act is very clear that all the members of the Executive Committees (ECs) of the GS would be exclusive from the GS itself and no outsider; Govt. official could be the member of the EC. This is unique in itself. Besides, FRA Gram Sabha is empowered to give notice/summon to the government servants at different levels to be present in the meeting of Gram Sabha. GS can ask for any help (financial, human, material etc) at any time to the government officials. Thus FRA redefines the place, position and role of the government servants in the implementation of its decision. The Outfit has also suggested for holding Hamlet level Sabha, Mahila (woman) Sabha and Children Sabha to effectively deal with the specific issues of the concern groups within a bigger villages.
CSD has also informed that, “besides recognition of Individual and community forest rights (grazing, ownership over MFP) and community rights over forest, the FRA has also empowered the GS to protect and manage the forest and other natural resources. It has also empowered the community(GS) to decide over diversion of forest land for non-forest uses.” “This community rights recognized under FRA to the ‘Gram Sabha- Sarkar’ is historic one. It not only establishes community rights over forest but also strengthen the forest protection and biodiversity conservation.” However, this rights recognized to the community under FRA is seen as threat for the other Sarkars i.e. State Government and the Central Government. This was the reason why Hon’ble Supreme Court of India directed Govt. of Odisha/Vedanata Company to ask for the written consent of the Dongaria Kandh/community people depending upon Niyamgiri Hills proposed for diversion, this was the reason why Dongaria Kandha denied giving consent and have won the battle against Government of Odisha and Vedanta Company over Niyamgiri.
CSD has urged upon all the civil society organizations, researchers, academicians, and intellectuals, activists who are committed for the “Gram Swaraj” to wide spread the victory of Dongaria Kandha over Niyamgiri, the supremacy and power of the Gram Sabha-Sarkar recognized under FRA and to demand our ‘Grassroots Governance System in the line of FRA-Gram Sabha. It also asserts that “when we recognize “Gram Sabha as Gram Sabha Sarkar” we should have clear understanding over it.”The Gram Sabha-Sarkar” would have exclusive power to protect and manage its people and resources (land, forest and water) coming under its geographical jurisdiction as Government of Odisha exists and operates within and under Govt. of India.
CSD has also call upon the community people across the State to over throw the current 3 tires Panchayati Raj system and to establish the FRA-Gram Sabha for all purposes in which the community people would have exclusive rights over its resources and would enjoy the true democracy.