ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Panchayats in Fifth Scheduled Areas

The Extension Act, 1996 is an important piece of legislation, extending the provisions of grass roots self-governance of the 73rd Constitution amendment to the Fifth Scheduled Areas. Yet, most of the concerned states have been indifferent to the enactment of the Extension Act and devolution of powers and authority to the gram sabha and panchyats.

The Constitution(73rd amendment) Act 1992 (hereafter referred to as Central Act) generated such a fervour towards establishing the panchayats in the countryside that some exempted territories were also brought under its fold. Article 243 M(1) of the Central Act says: “Nothing in this Part shall apply to the scheduled areas referred to in clause(1), and the tribal areas referred to in clause(2) of Article 244”. These include scheduled areas, tribal areas and hill areas of Manipur. However, Article 243M (4) (b) of the Central Act envisioned: “parliament may by law, extend the provisions of this Part to the scheduled areas and the tribal areas referred to in clause(1) subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified in such law, and no such law shall be deemed to be an amendment of this Constitution for the purpose of Article 368”.

Even though the parliament has not enacted any law in this regard, states like Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have extended the Central Act to the scheduled areas. As this was an unconstitutional act on the part of these states, tribal leaders protested the attempt of the states to erode the autonomy of the tribal people in their affairs. They mobilised tribal people around this issue. Finally, the tribal leaders and activists took the matter to the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The high court in its judgment held that extension of Andhra Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, to scheduled areas is ultra vires to the Constitution. Keeping in view the agitation launched by tribal people and the judicial verdict of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, it was felt that the parliament should enact a law to extend the provisions of the Central Act to the scheduled areas. A high level committee under the chairmanship of Dileep Singh Bhuria was appointed. The committee was to clarify as to how the scheduled areas could be covered under the provisions of the Central Act. After this committee made its recommendations, a bill was introduced in the parliament and passed on December 19, 1996, which was subsequently assented to by the president on December 24, 1996. This act, ‘The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996’ (hereafter referred to as Extension Act) has extended the Central Act to the scheduled areas mentioned under clause (1) of Article 244 of the Constitution. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa are covered under the Fifth Scheduled Areas. It became mandatory on the part of these states to amend their existing panchayat acts in consonance with the Extension Act within a year, i e, by December 24, 1997.

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