The Public Life of a ‘Progressive’ Law: PESA and Gaon Ganarajya (Village Republic)

Date01 December 2015
Published date01 December 2015
Subject MatterArticles
The Public Life of a ‘Progressive’
Law: PESA and Gaon Ganarajya
(Village Republic)
Kamal Nayan Choubey1
This article explores the public life of a law enacted in the post-liberalization era for the tribal-
dominated areas (or Scheduled Areas [SAs] of the Indian Constitution) of India. This law, the
Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996 has been termed by many grassroots
tribal organizations as ‘progressive’ and ‘historic’, because it gives some crucial rights to the gram sabha
of SAs. Apart from giving a contextual understanding of the enactment of the law and its provisions,
this article evaluates the general pattern of the experiences of its implementation, and in this context,
focuses in particular on the case study of Rajasthan. It aims to underline the basic argument that
though the implementation of this law has been highly dismal, it has got a public life for itself and has
created enormous awareness among the tribals for their rights, which has led to the emergence of
‘legalism from below’ and deeper democratization in these areas.
PESA, gram sabha, Gaon Ganarajya, Shilalekh, marginal society, tribal communities
The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996 is one of those significant laws of
post-colonial India which has been debated enormously since its inception. This law, enacted in the
post-liberalization India, has been described as a key legislation because it defines all natural habitations
such as hamlet or para in the Scheduled Areas (SAs) or the Schedule V areas of the Indian Constitution
as one community-based unit (or village) and gives them the right to take decisions regarding their
community life (Government of India [GoI], 1996). For globalized private corporate capital and the
advocates of latest modern technology-based development and maximum exploitation of natural
resources, this law has been a stumbling block in the way of their desired ends because it gives signi-
ficant rights to the gram sabha regarding mining, land acquisition, etc. Due to this, the provisions
of PESA have been widely avoided/violated in the case of most of the ‘development’ works in SAs
(Sharma, 2010; Sundar, 2011). This article aims to probe how far the PESA, as a law, having emerged
from people’s movement, has been successful in achieving the goal driving the movement for its
1 Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dyal Singh College, Delhi University, Delhi.
Studies in Indian Politics
3(2) 247–259
© 2015 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023015601745
Corresponding author:
Kamal Nayan Choubey, 6/42A top f‌loor, Double storey, Vijay Nagar, Delhi 110009.

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