AMA JUNGLE YOYANA-UNDERMINING THE PANCHAYAT RAJ SYSTEMBy;Sandeep Pattnaik,National Center For Advocacy Studies
India is celebrating Panchayat Raj today. It has been 24 years since Panchayats and Municipalities were given constitutional status through 73rd and 74th amendments. Today we have 32 lakh representatives including 12 lakh women who have been democratically elected from among 2.5 lakh panchayats. People’s association with and expectation from these bodies are increasing day by day.
The day signifies that people will actively participate in the local- governance process and be empowered to determine their future. It envisions a decentralised form of Governance where each village will be responsible for its own affairs and the bureaucratic intervention would be minimal.
As per the constitutional amendment of 1992, the respective state governments have announced to decentralise power to the Panchayats. The government of Odisha too declared its intention to strengthen PRIs as institutions of self-government. In the year 2003, 21 subjects of 11 departments have been supposedly devolved to the PRIs in the line with 73rd constitutional amendment 1992. In others words Officials of 11 departments should be accountable to PRIs.
After more than a decade of devolution in Odisha, the question is still raised - is there at all even a single subject which is fully being opertionallised by Panchayat Raj Institutions? The 73rd and 74th amendments, no doubt, formally transferred the functions to PRIs and Municipalities, but there have been very little effective devolution in the matter of funds, functions or functionaries.
Rather there are proliferating parallel bodies like Vana Surakshya Samiti (VSS), Village Education Commitee (VEC) and Water Users Association (WUA). These bodies are created by the line departments of the state government as per the guideline of different state and Centrally Sponsored Schemes. Some of the user committees are not even answerable to the Panchayats. The user committees not only created parallel institutional regime but also a parallel legal regime. These bodies are favourites of the line departments for exercising their hegemony over the people at grassroots.
To mark the 20th Anniversary of 73rd amendment, an Expert Committee constituted by Ministry of Panchayat Raj, GoI under the chairmanship of Mr. Mani Shankar Ayer has brought out a report on ‘leveraging PRIs for more efficient delivery of public goods and services’ on 24th April 2013. The report inter alia said, "Panchayat Raj has been seriously suborned by establishing parallel bodies under CSS (centrally sponsored schemes) that are neither embedded in the system nor have organic link to it. The central ministries, which send down substantial funds for implementation of Centrally sponsored schemes, ignore panchayat and municipalities. It leaves very little incentives for state to go ahead with real devolution. In consequence, all responsibility in these bodies is upwards to officers and not downwards to the people in gram and ward sabhas." "Importantly" he also adds, "outlays are not commensurate with outcomes."
The irony is that the recommendations of the expert committee was not accepted either by the Central government nor by any state government. The latest example is the “Ama Jungle Yojana” under the Odisha Forestry Sector Development Project (OSFDP). The Forest and Environment department of Odisha Government has purposed to take up conservation of forests under the AJY over the next years from 2016-17 to 20121-22 at an estimated cost of Rs. 1,170.02 crore. The amount will be sourced from Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Fund.
This will promote Vana Surakhya Samitis (VSSs) operating under Joint Forest Management (JFM) mode. The concept of JFM was created in 1993 through an administrative order of the Government under which the VSSs were supposed to be formed. Various studies have highlighted how the very concept of JFM sabotaged the community governance mechanisms prevalent since long, thereby substituting democratic values by the bureaucratic stranglehold.
This is a classic example to show how an administrative order is contradicting and overriding the provisions of Forest Rights Act (FRA) which was legislated in the Parliament in 2006. The FRA entrusts complete power with the Gram Sabha for planning, management and allocation of community forest resources, which meant that the VSSs were non-entities
The recently launched new scheme such as Ama Jungle Yojana will run through the VSS which will be parallel arrangement usurping the power s of the Gram Sabha that are guaranteed under the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution and Forest Rights Act 2006 as well.
The VSS will take up the issues of community forest resources and functioning of the government scheme and thus it seeks to substitute the Panchayat Bodies. In the name of direct interface between people and forest department the AJY and VSS shall completely nullify the institutional relevance of PRIs. The nodal officials under this new Scheme will be accorded greater importance and play a vital role in decision making processes at grassroots level. On the contrary different studies indicate that the forested landscapes have so long been protected and conserved by the communities by their own systems of protection and management from time immemorial.
Baragadia village of Naranapur Gram Panchayat under the Nilagiri Block of Balasore district and Hariharpur, a small tribal village in Barkort Block of Deogarh District have taken formal resolutions in their respective Gram Sabhas to oppose the AJY offered by the Forest Department, Govt. of Odisha. Villagers are claiming that as per the Section 4(1)(e) of FR Rules, there is no need to form VSS which gives the personnels of Forest Department exclusive control over forest and its resources.
The Union Ministery of Tribal Affairs has cautioned the Odisha Government not to erode the authority of the Gram Sabha while implementing the massive forest regeneration programme- - ‘Ame Jungle Yoyana’. The Odisha government was also earlier given a clear direction on the authority of the Gram sabha under the FRA.
On the eve of Panchayat Raj Day, the Government of Odisha should discourage the establishing of two parallel bodies for planning and management of community forest resources at the level of the Panchayats and respect its earlier stand that Gram Sabha is central to taking any decision on community forest resources (CFR) wherever Forest Right Act 2006 is being implemented.