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Only 10% villagers aware of rights of gram sabhas: Village elders' meet in Narmada valley told

By Our Representative
A special conference of panches, sarpanches and representatives from villages of Narmada valley at Arjun Karaj, Badwani district, Madhya Pradesh, held under the auspices of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), regretted that only 10% of villagers were aware of the rights of gram sabhas. Those who participated at the meet included NBA leader Medha Patkar, senior advocate Anil Trivedi, Manvar MLA Dr Hiralal, and Badwani district panchayat president Manendra Patel.
The Constitution has provided more powers to gram sabhas than state assembly or Parliament, asserted NBA activist Mukesh Bhagoria. Villagers pointed out how gram sabhas were being bypassed. A village panchayat janitor takes register to each household, and thumbs impression is sought in order to pass a resolution. This way, gram sabhas are never summoned. Nothing is done to call meetings to solve problems.
If Dr Hiralal regretted that lack of awareness about the rights bestowed to gram sabhas leads government to allow acquisition of huge chunks of land for corporate-sponsored projects, Patel lamented even the meagre amount, Rs 5 lakh, given for development work to each village pwnchayat, is not spent for the benefit of the villagers.
Trivedi said, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA gave special powers to tribal gram sabhas to decide on land and natural resources in their region. Patkar added, lack of awareness about PESA uprooted families in order to implement projects, illegal sand excavation, harvesting of trees, etc.

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