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

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Harnessing Gram Sabhas to Challenge State Profligacy in Chhattisgarh

Despite the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, there has been limited devolution of powers and gram sabhas have remained largely powerless. However, the movement to save Hasdeo Arand forests used these legislative provisions as an advocacy tool to not only highlight the regional challenges but also strive for a greater role of gram sabhas in central- and state-level policy legislating processes. It showcases the potential, as well as limits, of harnessing local self-governance institutions to push the boundaries of the provisions of these acts.

On 5 June 2016, on the occasion of World Environment Day, in a nondescript village called Madanpur in Chhattisgarh, bordering north Korba and south Surguja districts, a slogan was raised—Na lok sabha na vidhan sabha, sabse badi hai gram sabha (the biggest power lies with neither the Lok Sabha nor the Vidhan Sabha but with the gram sabha). Literally and figuratively, this represented a challenge to the privileged policy-legislating bodies at the centre and states from the gram sabha, the grass-roots policymaking body that is comparatively the least significant and virtually powerless. The thousands of villagers gathered in Madanpur on the pretext of attending a sammelan (convention) titled “The Challenges and Role of Gram Sabhas in Self-Governance and Environment Conservation” demanded direct participation not only in important legislative and policymaking processes that deal with their region, but also in issues of national and state-level interest that have a bearing on Hasdeo Arand. The conference was organised by the Hasdeo Arand Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (HABSS: Save Hasdeo Arand Campaign Committee), a loose federation of around 30 villages from the Hasdeo Arand region in Chhattisgarh.

Through various national- and state-level campaigns, they have tried to attract the attention of policymakers to the potential and substantial local impact of centrally-determined policies and legislations. In this way, the movement represents a unique experiment to push for genuine decentralisation and proper implementation of existing constitutional and legal provisions applicable to Scheduled Areas. Umeshwar Singh Armo,1 the convenor of HABSS, explained:

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Updated On : 5th Dec, 2017

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