The central legislation, Panchayati Raj (extension to scheduled areas) Act, 1996 came into force from December 24, 1996 with a view to extend village democracy provision to tribal areas in identified nine states of the country, namely Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan.
While, the real intention of the Act is to enable the tribals to assume control over their own destiny to preserve and conserve their traditional rights over natural resources, it has not yet been realised in many states.
Most states are yet to amend the subject laws, like those relating to money lending, forests and excise. Vital issues like the ownership of minor forest produce, planning and management of minor water bodies, prevention of alienation of tribal lands which have been duly recognised in the central Act as the traditional right of tribals living in scheduled areas have still not received the warranted attention and necessary correctives remain unapplied, said a report available with the ministry for panchayati raj institutions.
The government also noted that there were also other issues relating to powers statutorily devolved upon primary village units (gram sabhas) and panchayats without concomitant transfer of funds and functionaries. This situation has resulted in the village local bodies not being able to exercise their powers.
The central government, in this context, had earlier entrusted the Indian Law Institute to guide the state government in formulating necessary amendments to their laws.
The existing laws in the states concerned were examined and subsequently necessary amendments were proposed and yet many states have lagged behind in effecting necessary changes.
Gujarat has amended a local statute relating to agriculture, while other state governments are carrying out the exercise in consultation with their law department.
Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have informed the central government that some of their state laws have been amended on the lines of the central legislation prior to the report of the Indian Law Institute.
The government have asked the concerned states to submit a status report on action taken by them to bring their laws in conformity with the central legislation.
The central government has constituted several sub-groups to study the issues relating to minor forest produces, land alienation, displacement, rehabilitation and relief.
It has also constituted involving social activists to draft model guidelines for vesting powers on tribals. Reports of these sub-groups have been circulated to nine states for comments, to which only Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh have responded.