Need to establish direct democracy in villages on line of Forest Rights Act Gram Sabhas

2Odisha-based Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), which struggled  and got the historic Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 enacted in India, has demanded replacement of on-going Palli Sabha with Forest Rights Act Gram Sabha for all purposes on the occasion Panchayatiraj Divas Samaroh, held on 5th March, celebrated by the state government on the Birthday of legend Biju Pattnaik. Text of the CSD statement:

CSD is of the view that the on-going three tires Panchayati raj system is a biggest joke in the name of decentralisation of democracy in the State where the community people hardly have any power to take any independent decisions. “Palli sabha can be held in a revenue village only bypassing large number hamlet and forest villages. The agenda of the Palli Sabha is fixed by the bureaucrats, resolutions is prepared and kept by the Executive Officer”. CSD alleged. “The required quorum of the Palli Sabha is one-tenth only which is not even required in the next meeting if it is adjourned due to lack of quorum (Orissa Gram Panchayat Act, 1964, Section 6(5) (a)(b).” It means participation of majority of the members in Palli Sabha do not legally required as a result one can observe the least participation of community people in Palli Sabhas.

The real sense of democracy depends upon the “process of decision making”, “who takes what decision?” The decision making process in Panchayati raj system is limited to selection of beneficiaries for anti-poverty programmes and to approve constructions works. Even the plans are based on top-down approach and never other way round. Despite of the fact that the community people have created villages, named the villages and have been protecting and conserving land, forest and biodiversity from generations, they do not have the scope to take decision on Jal-Jungle-Jamin(the basic livelihood needs) since these are wrongly recorded as Government properties.

Over-Empowered Bureaucrats

Despite elected people’s representatives i.e Ward Members, Sarpanch, Samiti Members and Zilla Parishad, the Govt. Officials staring from the executive officer at G.P level, to BDO to Collector are more powerful. The powers and functions of Sarpanch / Grama Panchayat is control by the bureaucrats. In 1966 and 1967, the Government of Orissa made two successive notifications further weakening the Gram Sabha empowered under 73rd amendment in 1993. As per Section 20 of OGP Act, the Sub-Collector empowered to rescind or modify Gram Sabha Resolution at any time; can suspend the operation of the resolution or order; can prohibit the doing or continuance by any person of any act, and can direct the GP to drop the resolution altogether.

All the decision making power i.e. prior consultation for land acquisition, planning and management of minor water bodies, issue of prospecting license or mining lease for minor minerals are vested at Zilla Pardshad level. Even despite the power to enforce prohibition or regulate or restrict sale and consumption of any intoxicant is with the Grama Panchayats under Sec.44 (2) (a) of the OGP Act 1964,it is the Excise department who have the real power. Prior approval of Collector is necessary for  using the village fund even for economic and cultural development of the villagers” under  Section 97 ( 2) of OGP Act. Under Section 94(2) of OGP Act, it is the Collector who shall decide the ceiling within which a Sarpanch shall maintain the cash balance in his custody. Even after 73rdAmendment, the GPs of Orissa have no freedom to implement discretionary functions as provided under Section 45 of OGP Act.

Raising the negative role of the government officials, CSD asserted that “the government officials have not only influenced beneficiary section by the Pallli Sabha but also have forged the Gram Sabha resolutions in favour of Govt. and private companies where community people have objected diversion of forest land in mining prone districts”.

Not Representative but Direct Democracy in Village

In last 4 decades of Panchayati raj system, the people’s representative i.e Ward Members, Sarpanch, Samiti Members and Zilla Parishad has gone selfish. They have found corrupt and self-centred demanding salary and other allowances and benefits. The people’s representatives who are supposed to serve the community, work for the welfare of the people, most of the time they have been found mostly engaged in party politics, partiality and in contractual/construction works etc. once elected, they behaves like government people rather community representatives. In many occasions, they hardly consult the general public/voters of their constituency while taking decisions.

CSD has alleged that “In last four decades, Panchayati raj institutions, process of election has systematic ruined the traditional Gram Sabha, killed the brotherhood system and have created the Gram Sabha as conflict zone. Besides, Panchayat has become a tools in the hands of government not to serve people but to control people”.

That is why FRA Gram Sabha does not give any important role to the people’s representatives and talks of direct democracy in the villages. “They are one among others”. Any decision would be taken in the Gram Sabha itself with a simple majority (more than 50%) of its members/voters present and Voting.

Thus CSD seeks extension of FRA Gram Sabha for all purposes in a village.

CSD logoStructure of Gram Sabha Sarkar

While PESA and FRA recognises ‘Gram Sabha’ as “competent authority” to take decisions for its betterment, Panchayati raj system do not have faith over the competency of the community and do not believe that community can manage the fund flows for different developmental purposes in the village. As a result it puts its government employees in every executive committee formed at the Village/Gram Sabha level. On the other hand Section 6(1) of FRA recognises Gram Sabha as the “authority”/Gram Sabha Sarkar and Section 9 of FRA, 2006 recognises its Executive Body i.e Forest Rights Committee as “Public Servants.

“FRA insists Gram Sabha would have its different Executive Committees like different Govt. departments exclusively consisting of its members and no government officials shall be its members. The executive committee shall be accountable before the general body Gram Sabha. Secretary should work under Gram Sabha Sarkar. The plan and budget shall be exclusive of the Gram Sabha affairs and there should be direct flow of fund to the Village Committee. “Any works done is done in village and not in the panchayat or in the sky”. The upper tires of Panvhayatiraj institutions i.e Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parshad can play a monitoring role of the works done at the Gram Sabha level.” CSD claimed.

Woman Empowerment in its true spirit

Appreciating the 50% reservation of woman representation in Panchayati raj system which has been a model for other States, CSD has urged the Govt. to adopt the same 50% reservation of woman in Gram sabha meeting which is now 1/3. It has also advocated for special “Mahila Gram Sabha” to take crucial decisions on the issues i.e. liquor, girl child and woman protection,education etc. CSD asserted for abolition of restrictions like ‘minimum education qualification’ and ‘two children norms’ in participating Panchayat election which is even not required for contesting MLA and MP election.

Panchayat in Every Village

Reminding its promises made by BJD Govt. in its last election manifesto, 2014 to convert every revenue village having 1000 voters into a Panchayat (Congress had promised to convert every revenue village into a Panchayat) and citing examples of model villages i.e. Hibare Bazar in Maharshtra and Gangadevpalli in Andhra Pradesh, CSD had demanded Panchayat in every village and to fulfil the dream of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation who used to say, “Har Ek Gaoun Ek Desh Hoga” CSD is also of the view that “Panchayat in every village” and “Gaoun Ka hi Adami Sarpanch/member Hoga” would effectively reduce huge investment during panchayat elections, so also check corruption in the Panchayat and strengthen the service delivery system i.e old age pensions at the door steps and monitoring system within a village.” The upper tires of Panvhayati raj institutions i.e Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parshad can play a monitoring role of the programmes implemented at the Gram Sabha level.” CSD claimed.

FRA revives and strengthen PESA also extends provisions of PESA to non-scheduled area

CSD, Odisha condemned Odisha Govt. for diluting the Central PESA Act. 1996 and alleged that Govt. of Odisha has slain the progressive provision of Central PESA Act by extending the same provision of Panchayati raj system applied in non-scheduled area to scheduled 5th area violating Section 4 of the 73rd constitutional Amendment, 1993 on 21.4.1994 by bringing Notification (SRO No.327/94) by Governor of Odisha.

CSD further asserted that FRA, 2006 has not only revived PESA but also has strengthen PESA by providing clauses i.e 2/3 quorum of Gram Sabha, written consent of the concern Gram Sabha in case of forest land acquisition/alienation etc. and it extended the provision of the PESA even to the non-scheduled area empowering the village council(Gram Sabha) as Gram Sabha Sarkar.

CSD has called upon the Govt. of Odisha to adopt and establish FRA Gram Sabha in every village for all purposes to realise fruits of direct democracy in the village. It has also called upon the people of the State to demand for replacement of Palli Sabha with FRA Gram Sabha and to establish FRA Gram Sabha in each and every villages.

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