The Sand Belongs to the People (PESA 1996)

Before we get into the details of today's issue, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Amit Topno wants you to understand the fundamentals of the PESA Act of 1996. 1. PESA, 1996 is short for Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled) Area Act which was enacted and came into force on 24th December, 1996. It was regarded as a major step in promoting and strengthening village level democracy especially in marginalized and tribal areas.As of today, sixteen years have passed. 2. It validates and accepts 'customary law, social and religious customs and traditional management of community resources'.  It is the responsibility of the state government to amend its laws to conform with the tenets of the PESA Act. 3. Under the PESA, the Gram Sabha (Village Council) is endowed with special powers with which it can stop and redress cases of forced land acquisitions. It controls the local resources, the local markets and holds veto power on any and all development carried out in the area. All of which goes into a simple conclusion that a tribal village has the final word on the destiny of its land, resources and culture. Let alone a dam or a mine, neither the state nor the corporate can install even a simple water pump if the village council decides against it.   Sixteen years have passed and Amit Topno who lives in the scheduled area of Chitpoor Village, Torpa Block, Khunti District, Jharkhand wants to know why such a landmark and powerful Act is yet to be acknowledged by the administration. Why should the resources of the village drain into the city? Why should villages live in the dark while coal from their land or a dam over their river brings electricity to the cities. Water flows the same away. And so does sand. Amit's village of Chitpoor has six sand blocks. In blatant disregard to the PESA; the local Block Development Office and the Mining Department have sold mining permits of these blocks to city contractors. The villagers are paid an undignified sum to work as labor as they shovel sand onto the contractor's trucks. The sand is then sold for lakhs of rupees to builders and construction companies in the state capital of Ranchi. As the river beds in Chitpoor continue to sink, Ranchi sprawls. The city fills its pockets while the village starves. Amit is the headman's son and he is a leading voice in Chitpoor's struggle to claim its own sand. "It's the law," he says. "But you still have to fight for it. Until The District Collector and the Mining Department issue permits/challans in the name of the villagers, our struggle continues." "Seems like our Constitution is an altogether unconvincing read. 60 years on, it is still just catching up." Call to Action: "Call the District Collector of Khunti, Mr. Rakesh Kumar on  +919431106644,and remind him of PESA 1996. Demand that he give complete operational control of the 6 sand blocks of Chitpoor village over to the local Gram Sabha." "Thank You." "Merry Christmas.

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