Six months past the fra implementation deadline, Maharashtra is struggling to understand the Act and its provisions. The central issue in the state revolves around the local body employed to initiate the implementation procedure. The state government is going by gram panchayats and group gram panchayats, and villagers are demanding pada (hamlet)-based committees, saying it will facilitate people's participation, filing of claims and physical verification.
"Akkalkuva tehsil in Nandurbar district, a hilly terrain, has over 197 villages under 42 gram panchayats. One gram panchayat covers various villages, which could be as far as 30 km.How can one gram panchayat represent everyone correctly? What will happen when the claims made by the people would require to be physically verified by one village committee?" asks Pratibha Shinde of Nandurbar-based Punarvasan Sangharsh Samiti, which works on forest rights issues of tribals in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Brian Lobo of Kashtakari Sangathan, a Dahanu-based civil society group, says they have tried explaining to the state government the need to go down to the pada level, but to no avail. "Gram sabhas in Dahanu have been conducted at group gram panchayat levels and village committees formed at the revenue village level. In some cases the sarpanch has become the chairperson of the committee and does not want to let go of power. In February, some hamlets in Dahanu declared themselves a gram sabha unit, but the confusion remains if the state will recognize these gram sabhas," he says.
Some villages in the taluka, on their own, decided to decentralize the process. For instance, Shisane village held its gram sabha at the pada level and formed a forest committee there. Vanai, a resettlement village within Chandranagar village of Dahanu taluka, is another such example.
Villages that are aware of their Schedule status--Nandurbar, Jalgaon and Dhule--have used provisions of the Panchayats (Extension To The Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 to set up their own pada committees and directed the government to recognize them. In Nandurbar, 152 pada committees have been formed, in Jalgaon, over 150 and in Dhule, 45.
The Act says that gram sabha should be 'convened' by gram panchayat, which is being interpreted as each gram panchayat should hold just one gram sabha. This issue needs to be resolved urgently. The 90-day period for filing of the claims will end soon, leading to chaos. "Even in case of the 90-day time-frame, the Act is being wrongly interpreted. It says 90 days from the day village committee calls for the claims. But this is being misinterpreted as 90 days from the day a committee is formed," Lobo says, adding that the decision on whether to go for pada committees of revenue village committees should be left to the gram sabhas.
Matters get further complicated when one looks at villages that have both tribal and non-tribal populations. "In villages with a mixed population, Shahpur taluka in Thane for example, non-tribals do not want land to be given to tribals because that would mean less labourers in their farms and more conflict over grazing and other issues. Implementation of the 2006 Act will heighten this tension. Hence it is important to have pada -based gram sabhas," argues Lobo.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.