Caught in the tangle of logistics and various government processes, rural Maharashtra continues to face difficulty accessing funds administered under the provisions of the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA). Although PESA came into force in December 1996, Maharashtra enacted the PESA rules only in 2014. Its implementation on ground is yet to achieve its core value.
In Maharashtra, covers 13 districts in the scheduled areas (Pune, Thane, Palghar, Ahmednagar, Nashik, Nandurbar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nanded, Amravati, Yavatmal, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli). Under 2,895 gram panchayat (village councils) are 6,304 smaller hamlets that are PESA villages.
The significance of a PESA village is that it has a natural resource and management committee and a gram sabha kosh (account), which are constituted by the gram sabha (village assembly). According to a 2014 notification, issued by the Governor, PESA villages have the right to collect and sell minor forest produce, which includes tendu leaves, bamboo, medicinal plants, Moha flowers etc. These are widely available in the scheduled areas. In the past, minor forest produce was sold by the state’s forest department and the beneficiaries of the process were big traders.
Under PESA, 5 percent of the total budget for tribal component schemes (TCS) is allotted to gram panchayat in scheduled areas for developmental works. Gram sabha can undertake works related to basic infrastructure, forest and implementation of PESA, health, sanitation, education, wildlife conservation, water conservation, forestry, wildlife tourism and forest produce through this fund.
A report titled by the state department has provided the outlays over the last four years for important sub-sectors, like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, public health, education, roads, rural water supply and PESA. In 2014-15, nothing was allocated to PESA. In 2015-16, Rs 25,850 lakh were assigned to PESA and in 2016-17, the amount was Rs 26,788.59 lakh. In 2017-18, Rs 26,788.59 lakh were allocated to PESA and in 2018-19, the amount was Rs 26,788.59 lakh.
According to a by the state government, the 2014 notification should make it possible for PESA villages to become self-sufficient. However, all these rights are yet to come into force, say villagers in Palghar district.
Seven years ago, the villagers of Banachiwadi Pada – a hamlet with a population of 108, in Gomghar gram panchayat of Palghar’s Mokhada taluka — submitted a proposal to form an individual PESA village to the gram panchayat. They did not receive a response. Later, when non-governmental organisations (NGOs) started visiting the hamlets in Palghar, the villagers learnt they could self-declare Banachiwadi Pada a PESA village, and did so in October 2021. However, Banachiwadi Pada is yet to receive either government notification of its status or PESA funds.
“We organised a gram sabha and decided on the fund allocation of works on preserving our natural resources and submitted our proposal to the gram panchayat,” said Namdev Ganpat Patare, 35, who is the PESA committee president in Banachiwadi Pada and a farmer by profession.
“It’s almost been four months since the gram panchayat hasn’t given approval to us. The panchayat also refuses to give us our share of the PESA fund that they have been receiving since 2014. We don’t know where our part of the fund is spent because the panchayat has never done any work in our hamlet. They say until we receive government notification and show them the notification, they won’t give us anything,” said Patare.
Banachiwadi Pada has plans for its PESA funds. “Our forest has an abundance of Ayurvedic medicinal herbs that cure fever, allergy, cold, gastritis, pain and even fractured limbs. These resources are being exploited for years. We want to safeguard our forest under this act. We will also construct concrete roads for our village,” said Patare. He said the village also faced shortage of drinking water, for which they wanted PESA funds.
Bedukpada, another hamlet in Mokhada taluka, has a population of 311. It comes under Koshimshet revenue village and Koshimshet comes under Dhamanashet gram panchayat.
In 2019, after NGOs like Aroehan and Vayam Movement made the villagers aware of their entitlements under PESA, Bedukpada submitted an application to the sub-divisional office in Mokhada. When they didn’t receive a response in six months, the villagers self-declared Bedukpada a PESA village.
“As per rules, the timeframe is 135 days and if there is no objection from the collector, the village can self-declare as PESA village,” said Amit Narkar, chief executive officer of Aroehan.
“Since no government notification has been issued till date, we are yet to receive the PESA fund. The government officials in the sub-divisional office say that our part of the fund has been going to Dhamanashet gram panchayat for many years, but the gram panchayat isn’t ready to release our fund till they see government notification. We are caught in a tangle and we do not know how to come out of it,” said Ramesh Madhukupane, 32, who is a farmer from Bedukpada.
said an outlay of Rs 8,969.05 crore was provided under tribal component schemes (TCS) for 2018-19. Of this, Rs 3,208.20 crore are for district-level schemes and Rs 5,760.85 crore are for state-level schemes (including Rs 267.88 crore for PESA gram panchayat). In 2018-19, under TCS, about 360 schemes (116 state level; 192 district level; and 52 Centre-sponsored schemes) were implemented.
The next year’s said that under TCS, proposed funds amounted to Rs 8,531 crore. Of this, Rs 2,201.11 crore was earmarked for district level schemes and Rs 6,329.89 crore for state level schemes (including Rs 267.88 crore for PESA gram panchayat). The report said that about 346 schemes (129 state level; 172 district level; and 45 Centre-sponsored schemes) were implemented under TCS in 2019-202.
In 2018-19, an expenditure of Rs 267.88 crore was incurred and a budget provision of Rs 267.88 crore was made in 2019-20. Till December 2020, an expenditure of Rs 160.73 crore was incurred, according to the survey.
In 2020-21, direct funding was provided to 3,050 gram panchayats in Maharashtra, according to the. An expenditure of Rs 160.73 crore was incurred and a budget provision of Rs 267.89 crore was made in 2020-21 and till December, Rs 66.97 crore had been incurred as expense.
If all this money has been allocated to PESA, why is there a delay in funds reaching PESA villages?
Navapada, which is home to the Varli tribe and has a population of 370, comes under the revenue village Ase. The hamlet decided to form a separate PESA village in 2015. The application was submitted to Ase gram panchayat. So far, Navapada has not received any notification.
“In 2020, when social workers from NGOs started visiting our hamlet, we learnt to a great extent about the PESA Act and our rights,” said 33-year-old Lakshman Shiva Navara, who is a pada samiti member and farmer. “We questioned the Ase gram panchayat for our pending application and their reason was that if we form a separate PESA village, their funding will decrease. That's why they never forwarded our application to the division office in Jawhar. All of us from Navapada sat in on a protest and they finally handed over our files from 2015. We took the same file and submitted it to the division office and they finally approved it in January last year,” he said.
Hoping the fund will come to the gram sabha kosh (account) soon, Navapada’s locals have spent Rs 60,000 on a drinking water facility at the local school and anganwadi and paver block in the school last year. “People have contributed either by money or labour. As per our population, we should be getting Rs 2.5 lakh in a year, in two instalments, but we are yet to receive 2021’s fund. We hope to get it by March this year,” said Navara.
With PESA funds, villagers want concrete roads.
Kavita Sonu Navara, 20, volunteers at the anganwadi in Navapada. She said women participated in discussions in her hamlet only after gram sabha were held there. “There is no transport in our village. To attend Ase gram panchayat, people had to walk 4 kilometres, so only a few men from our village used to go. Now gram sabha happens in our hamlet and it's convenient to participate,” said Kavita, adding that women from her hamlet want to use the PESA funds to work towards being financially independent.
The village also has a problem of open defecation. To take a bath, villagers walk 1.5kms to a pond. Yamuna Lakshman Navara, 32, is the mother of three children. She wants PESA funds to construct toilets.
Yamuna Lakshman Navara and her children have to walk 1.5 km to a pond to take a bath.
Karoli hamlet in Mokhada taluka, home to members of the Kokna tribe, applied to be notified under PESA in 2014, but again, received no response. The villagers learnt about their PESA rights from NGOs and started following up on their application. In 2021, the hamlet of 490 people was finally notified as a PESA village.
“The government of Maharashtra enacted the PESA Rules in 2014, but nowhere has it directed how to implement it on ground. In 2014, when we submitted our proposal, government employees didn’t know how to go about it,” said Narayan Kisan Mahale, 32, who is president of PESA and also secretary of pada samiti in Karoli.
Karoli should receive Rs 4 lakhs under PESA in two instalments. Gita Gavit, 25, is the PESA treasurer in Karoli. She says the hamlet’s committee bought a bench for their village with the PESA fund. “In the gram sabha, we discuss every plan. With the fund, we also constructed a paver block where we sit for gram sabha. We want to construct a concrete road that leads to the well and also start a fishery,” said Gavit.
“Acts like PESA weigh a great deal for tribal communities. Earlier, when we were not aware of our rights under PESA, the forester didn’t allow us to enter the forest that comes under our hamlet. Now we tell them that as per the Act, we have the right to our land, forest and water resources of our village,” said Mahale.
However, Mahale said the villagers were still working out the paperwork required to secure the funding. “The difficulty right now is that it [the paperwork] is in English and none of us in the village can read English [they only read Marathi]. When we approached a government employee, he said he will charge us for translating it. This act is for people like us, so why isn’t it made considering our convenience?” asked Mahale.
In the absence of concrete roads, till last year, villagers from Karoli walked 16 kms to reach the nearest primary health centre (PHC) in Ase. “For years, pregnant women and patients have been carried in litter vehicles [called palki, this is a wheelless human-powered transport made out of bed-sheets]. There have been cases of patients dying mid-way. The doctor or nurse is not available round the clock at the PHC. They don’t even do thorough checkups, but send us back by giving us some pills. We really need to set up a basic medical facility in our hamlet,” said 40-year-old Rukmini Kashiram Gavit.
Rukmini Kashiram Gavit says her hamlet needs basic medical facilities.
The NGO Vayam Movement has been working with tribal communities in Palghar and Nashik since 2008. Under the NGO’s guidance, 300 people from 14 gram panchayat in Palghar district submitted a right-to-information (RTI) application in 2018.
The RTI application asked for all documents related to the Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP); its finance commission grants; Swachh Bharat Mission grant; tribal sub-plan (TSP) 5 percent fund; taxes collected by the gram panchayat; spending of gram panchayat; a copy of the completed and pending work; expense-related vouchers; quotation and tender copies; estimate copy, and fund utilisation certificate.
“PESA rules say very clearly that only gram sabha can issue a fund utilisation certificate to the gram panchayat. This certificate shows the work laid out by the gram panchayat for gram sabha. This has never happened. As per Maharashtra Gram Panchayat Act and PESA rules, this information should be a proactive disclosure. That means it has to be in the public domain,” said Milind Thatte, 47, organiser and founder of Vayam Movement.
Thatte said they had to file two appeals to get a response from just one gram panchayat. The rest have not made the information public. He said gram panchayat have been using funds “as they like without revealing the details of the expense”.
a study by the TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and supported by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), Maharashtra, found that PESA’s mandate is not reflected in the TSP. The TSP does not provide for participation of the gram sabha and various tiers of panchayati raj (a form of government at village level where each village is responsible for its own activities) in the planning process. The manner in which the schemes are implemented, process of selection of beneficiaries, and the lack of participative micro-planning amount to violation of the mandate of PESA.
The study further says the process of selection of beneficiaries for most schemes is arbitrary and non-transparent. There is a need to bring beneficiary selection in line with PESA’s mandate and involve hamlets’ gram sabha as units of selection.
The NGO Aroehan has been working with tribal communities in Palghar district, trying to create awareness about PESA among villagers. In October 2021, Aroehan filed an RTI, seeking a block-level list of villages that have submitted PESA applications; a list of villages sanctioned under PESA, with dates; the number of villages rejected, along with the reasons for rejection; the current status of the cancelled villages; the number of villages not notified, along with the reason and their current status.
“The only response we received after two months is, ‘Your application is forwarded to the State Public Information Officer’,” said Kaustubh Gharat, project manager (community development) at Aroehan. After following up with various departments, the forest department supplied some information. “They provided unofficial data of villages declared as per PESA Act, article 4. It is very strange that a collector has data on district census, schools, hospitals etc. but has no information on PESA villages,” said Gharat.
Narkar, who is Aroehan’s CEO, said, “From August last year, we started working on PESA vigorously. Nine villages received PESA funds and other 16 villages, who were declared new PESA villages last year, are yet to receive PESA funds.”
As per Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the as of 2021 issued to the people of Palghar district is zero. Gender Wise worker list shows just eight male and one female skilled workers and 390 male and four female semi-skilled workers from Palghar as of 2021. As per ’s village-wise report on infrastructure of the villages in the Palghar district, 196 villages have concrete/ pucca roads, while 271 villages are partially covered and 443 villages do not have concrete roads at all. In 103 villages, there is no public transport and 736 villages do not have availability of markets. Piped tap water is yet to reach 261 villages and 106 villages do not have telephone services.
PESA funds could be utilised to tackle – if not resolve – all of these issues.
An official from the state department of tribal development in Palghar admitted that there was more work to be done, but said PESA being linked to job reservations since 2019 had helped raise awareness of the Act.
“The notification basically says that around 17 posts have to be recruited from local tribes,” said the official, requesting anonymity. “I agree that in terms of the core intention of the Act, which is basically giving self-governance and rights to the tribal community, we still have a long way to go. Acts like this are for protecting the rights of the tribal community. This is where the awareness has been fairly low. The core intention of the act has still not been completely realised. In this area, we need a lot of ground-level workers and mobilisers.”
The official added that the onus of educating themselves about the Act rested upon the people. “This is an act where the government is asking people to take ownership of their natural resources. If people are not doing so, to what extent can you blame the government department? Government provisions can only take you so far. Ultimately, it is the people who need to be educated on such acts and take responsibility. The process of PESA gram panchayat declaration has zero pendency because the Act clearly says if there is no objection within three months, then the village is declared as PESA village automatically,” said the official.
This report is published as part of the Newslaundry-India Data Portal Data Journalism Fellowship 2022.
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