Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

How the PESA has boosted Forest Conservation in India?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: PESA Act

Mains level: How PESA ensures Equitable Representation

Why in the News?

Conservation policies in India have long wrestled with dual conflicts: balancing conservation goals against local communities’ resource extraction needs, and reconciling conservation with the imperative of economic development.

Structural Mandate of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA):

  • PESA was passed in 1996 and it mandates local government councils in Scheduled Areas to reserve all chairperson positions and at least half of the seats for Scheduled Tribes (ST).
  • This legislative framework is designed to empower marginalized communities by giving them a direct say in local governance and resource management.

Implementation in India:

  • Unlike the 73rd Amendment (which applies to non-Scheduled Areas), PESA ensures mandated representation for STs in decision-making bodies.
  • Variations in PESA implementation across states highlight challenges and successes in translating legislative intent into effective governance structures.

How it Ensures Equitable Representation:

  • Impact on Forest Conservation: The study employs a “difference-in-differences” methodology to analyze the effect of PESA on forest cover. Findings indicate that areas with mandated ST representation under PESA experience lower rates of deforestation and higher afforestation rates compared to areas without such representation.
  • Economic Incentives for Conservation: ST communities, dependent on forest resources for livelihoods, are incentivized to protect forest cover under PESA. This “forest stewardship” mechanism emerges as STs engage in sustainable practices and resist deforestation pressures driven by mining and commercial interests.

On Democratic Decentralization:

  • Comparison with Administrative Decentralization: The paper distinguishes between administrative decentralization (focused on efficiency) and democratic decentralization. Democratic decentralization, as exemplified by PESA, emphasizes representative and accountable local governance structures with decision-making autonomy over resource management.
  • Single Umbrella Institution: Advocates for consolidating power into a single, empowered institution that integrates both conservation and development objectives. Such an institution would better navigate the complexities of balancing local economic interests with sustainable conservation practices.

Conclusion: PESA serves as a critical example of how legislative mandates for political representation can drive positive environmental outcomes while addressing socio-economic disparities among forest-dwelling communities in India.

Mains PYQ:

Q What are the two major legal initiatives by the state since Independence, addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (ST)? (UPSC IAS/2017)

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