Panchayat Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996: Policy Brief
Local self-governance, interpreted as devolution of powers and functions of the government departments by the creation of Panchayat Raj institutions (PRIs) as a national framework of governance commenced with the passage of 73rd Amendment to the Constitution. The States made suitable amendments to existing Panchayat laws where they existed or enacted legislations in accordance with the 73rd Amendment where they did not exist. The devolution of the powers and responsibilities to the PRIs were neither uniform nor at the same pace, but progressed steadily. The Scheduled Areas were exempted from the application of the 73rd Amendment for which the Parliament enacted a separate law, Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA). PESA provisions were incorporated through amendments to the State Panchayat laws and amendments to the subject laws. A decade and a half of PESA in the 9 States with Scheduled Areas has been dismal and failed to usher in the expected far-reaching turn around in what was seen as governance deficit and misgovernance in the Scheduled Areas. PESA continued to be hailed as a fundamental departure to local self-governance that would usher in participatory democracy and genuine empowerment of the people. The reasons why PESA failed to deliver has been a result of lack of clarity, legal infirmity, bureaucratic apathy, lack of political will, resistance to change in power hierarchy and non-realisation of its real long term worth. Issues of basic nature are identified along with certain concrete propositions to address the gaps in the governance frame along with the available instruments that can be effectively used.
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