To implement its two-pronged strategy to counter the spread of naxalism, the Centre has sought the help of the panchayats.

Secretary of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj A.N.P. Sinha has written to the Chief Secretaries of the nine States where several districts are covered by the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The Ministry proposed amendments to the PESA Act. It hoped that Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which, Mr. Sinha said were characterised by poverty, illiteracy, weak infrastructure and deprivations would tackle naxalism.

Stressing people-centric governance and people's control over community resources and their life, with the gram sabhas as the pivot, as extended by Part IX of the Constitution to the Schedule V areas, Mr. Sinha underlined the need for “urgency” in the implementation of PESA to contain extremism.

‘Not up to the mark'

As the implementation of the Act had not been satisfactory, the letter pointed out “the rights, livelihood and habitat of the people in these areas continued to be under stress leading to disaffection with the system.”

The MoPR is examining the central laws and polices related to forests and mining, besides proposing amendments to PESA for removing various infirmities.

The States are expected to amend the Panchayati Raj Act in consonance with PESA. This would define a “village” and also the powers of the gram sabha. The changes in laws and rules and executive instructions on mines and minerals, excise, money lending, and land acquisition would allow a role to gram sabhas in these matters.

Panel asked to be set up

As implementation of PESA involved several departments, the States have been directed to set up a committee under the Chief Secretary, activate Tribes Advisory Council and Tribal Research Institutes, mention the progress of implementation of PESA in the Annual Governor's Report, as mandated in Schedule V, fill all vacancies, and set up grievance redressal mechanism at various levels.

Hoping that the gram sabhas would be activated on a mission mode to exercise powers and functions in planning and executing Central and State schemes, the letter said this was required to tackle the “deepening and widening of extremism” in PESA areas and their vicinity.