GADCHIROLI Collector Deepak Singla has frozen what he described as “illegal accounts” of 19 gram sabhas in Korchi tahsil of the district, drawing protests from community leaders and Forest Rights Act (FRA) activists.
Singla ordered the accounts frozen on March 18 but nothing was communicated to the villages about it. It came to the notice of the villages on April 16, when cheques issued by Kukdel, Gahanegata and Zankargondi villages to shopkeepers, against purchase of essential items for villagers during the nationwide lockdown, bounced. The banks told them that accounts of 19 gram sabhas have been frozen as per the Collector’s order.
The villages have got community forest rights (CFRs) under FRA that empower them to manage the forest areas under their command and own forest produce in the area, such as tendu leaves and mahua flowers, which they can harvest and sell and use the money for village development. The gram sabhas have their bank accounts operated by signatories authorised by and with consent of the sabhas. Many of these gram sabhas, including the 19 from Korchi, have formed federations (mahasangh) for combined tendu auctions as a safeguard against traders exploiting individual gram sabhas.
The gram sabhas had also received compensation for a power grid transmission line that passed through the community-managed forest and Singla’s predecessor Shekhar Singh had deposited the money in these accounts.
On April 20, Kukdel and Temli gram sabhas wrote to the collector that in view of the oncoming tendu season, their accounts should be freed since the whole tendu transaction is done through these accounts. “The Collector didn’t even acknowledge the receipt of the letter,” stated a representation sent by ‘Mahagramsabha Korchi’, the umbrella organisation of 80 gram sabhas in Korchi, including the aggrieved 19 gram sabhas, to Principal Secretary of Tribal Development, Maharashtra, Manisha Verma.
Singla told The Indian Express, “These gram sabhas are operating two accounts and were found to have diverted the hefty transmission line compensation of about Rs 65-70 lakh per gram sabha to the second account operated by two individuals without any gram sabha consent. The money belongs to the entire community so how can it be diverted to an account for which there is no provision in the law?”
“FRA provides for an account to be operated by the gram sabha, with the consent of all members and with the gram sevak, who is the statutory government representative, being a party to the whole exercise. Here, they completely bypassed the gram sevak and diverted the money to another account operated by two individuals,” Singla said.
He added, “I have constituted a four-member inquiry committee to probe several such questions.”
Satish Gogulwar, a tribal activist who guides the Mahagramsabha, said, “There is nothing illegal about gram sabha having more than one accounts. Some even have three. Sometime ago, the Tribal Development Department had given then funds and had asked them to open a separate account for it.”
He said, “There are often two accounts, one under FRA and the other under Panchayat raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act…Gram sevak is a government representative on the PESA account, not the gram sabha account.”
Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, another prominent tribal activist, said, “If the collector has instituted a probe, then how can he prejuducially infer any wrongdoing by the gram sabhas and curtail their rights even before the probe could begin? Does he mean that all his predecessors, who have overseen the whole FRA implementation in Gadchiroli, have either knowingly or unknowingly ignored it or were a party to it?”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines