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Drive to power gram sabhas

Ranchi, Feb. 9: A group of activists and village representatives today assembled in the state capital to plan a statewide campaign, seeking more powers for gram sabhas — the traditional bodies for governance at the grassroots level.

Over hundred participants from across Jharkhand discussed ways to protect the rights of gram sabhas as well as interests of tribal people at a daylong workshop organised by Visthapan Virodhi Nav Nirman Morcha at XISS, Ranchi.

The morcha — an umbrella of several outfits — is planning to take out rallies, hold seminars and consultations to educate rural people on the issue in the near future.

Stan Swamy, an rights activist with a vast experience in the field of rural governance, said as per the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, gram sabhas were the custodian of land, forest, water and other natural resources in their respective areas.

But, the government is yet to allow gram sabhas play an active role in decision-making with regard to minor resources, he said.

“Several states have adopted PESA. However, most of the governments have diluted its provisions, undermining the main objective — delegating more powers to gram sabhas,” he said.

Swamy added the PESA provided a central role to a village, recognising a habitation to be a natural unit of the community, and considered its gram sabha to be competent enough to act on a range of powers.

P.P. Verma of Jharkhand Alternative Development Forum said, “Awareness campaigns should be organised to make tribals aware of the PESA provisions.”

A member of Hul Jharkhand Kranti Dal, Babudhan Murmu, said, “Management of land, forest, water and minor minerals should be delegated to rural bodies.”