Collapse of Adivasi self-governance system in Jharkhand: Need to implement PESA

Source: Down to Earth

Relevance: Reviving tribal self-governance system

Synopsis: The PESA Act is considered to be the backbone of tribal legislation in India. Proper implementation can rejuvenate self-governance system in Jharkhand.


During most of the time in history, Adivasis had their own federal governance system. These decision-making processes were considered people-centric and democratic. The administrative systems during the colonial period and elected parliamentary democracy after independence affected this Adivasi governance system to a great extent.

  • For example, the introduction of the Bihar Panchayat Raj System (BPRS) in 1947 made Adivasi traditional governance systems weak.

This was aggravated by industrialization, displacement of Adivasis and urbanisation. As a result, the traditional system disappeared from most Adivasi areas. Also, the PESA Act, which was supposed to uphold the traditional decision-making process, has so far not been fully implemented in its true spirit.

Traditional governance system of Adivasis: Village Council
  • The Adivasis were not a part of the caste society. They had their own system of governance, which was, unlike the caste system, non-hierarchical.
  • Every tribal village had a village council as the basic unit for self-governance.
  • The names are different in different tribes though. For example, ‘Parha Raja System’ for Munda and Oraon tribe, ‘Munda Manki System’ for Ho tribe.
  • These forums used to act as the decision-making bodies for all matters related to administration, justice, law making (social Sanctions). Consent from the whole village was considered to be the main component of this decentralised decision-making process.
Issues with traditional governance system

Though this traditional system of self-governance helped make the Adivasi communities decide for themselves, it had several loopholes too.

  • Absence of women in this entire process of decision making.
  • The chiefs of the traditional self-governance system of tribes in Jharkhand would be selected hereditarily. No woman was allowed to be the chief at any level.
  • This system also denied women’s right to own property.
Introduction of PESA
  • To promote local self-governance in rural India, the 73rd constitutional amendment was made in 1992.
  • Through this amendment, a three-tier Panchayati Raj Institution was made into a law.
  • However, its application to the scheduled and tribal areas under Article 243(M) was restricted.
  • After the Bhuria Committee recommendations in 1995, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 came into existence for ensuring tribal self-rule for people living in scheduled areas of India.
  • The PESA Act conferred the absolute powers to Gram Sabha, whereas state legislature has given an advisory role to ensure the proper functioning of Panchayats and Gram Sabhas.
PESA violations
  • Out of 22 provisions in the PESA, Jharkhand has taken only seven of them and replaced the fifteen provisions by the general administrative norms of the Panchayat system for non-Scheduled Areas.
  • PESA in Jharkhand remained partial in terms of the special rights that the Adivasis of Scheduled Areas in Jharkhand should enjoy.
  • The partially implemented PESA has worsened self-governance in Adivasi areas in Jharkhand.
  • Ananth and Kalaivanan (2017) stated that PESA did not deliver due to the lack of clarity, legal infirmity, bureaucratic apathy, absence of a political will, resistance to change in the hierarchy of power, and so on.
  • Social audits conducted across the state have also pointed out that in reality different developmental schemes were being approved on paper by Gram Sabha as a vetting entity without actually having any meeting for discussion and decision making.
  • Hardly any regular meetings of Gram Sabha are conducted.
Way forward
  • PESA recognises the traditional system of the decision-making process and stands for the peoples’ self-governance.
  • If it is implemented in letter and spirit, it will rejuvenate the dying self-governance system in the tribal area of Jharakhand.
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