The signboards in the few tribal-dominated villages in Dahanu taluka of Palghar district on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border — announcing that laws made by Parliament or State Assembly are not applicable in these areas — have been removed following a report in The Indian Express.
The Indian Express had reported on January 28 that just like the Patthalgarhi movement in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh last year, these signboards were put up in villages under Chikhale and Waki gram panchayats in Dahanu taluka.
The red signboards titled ‘Bharatiya Samvidhan – Panchvi Anusuchit Kshetra (Constitution of India – Schedule Five Area) cited Article 244 of the Constitution, dealing with the administration and control of tribal-dominated areas identified in the Fifth Schedule. They warned visitors that they are in a scheduled area and that according to Article 19 (5) of the Constitution, “no person, outside scheduled area (except those from scheduled tribes) are allowed to move freely, reside or become a permanent resident, or do any business, trade or job (in gram panchayat area)”.
During the Patthalgarhi movement, several villages of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh last year put up similar messages inscribed on stone slabs, seeking to declare supremacy of the gram sabha while asking the government to stay away.
Signboards were put up in villages under Chikhale gram panchayat around the middle of last year, though a resolution to this effect was passed by the gram panchayat several months earlier, in May 2017, around the time the Patthalgarhi movement was taking shape in the two eastern states. This resolution claimed that “as per the Fifth Schedule, Article 244 (1) of the Constitution of India, no laws formed by the Parliament of India and state legislative assemblies are applicable in the scheduled areas” and that laws like the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure also do not apply in these areas.
Taking a cue from Chikhale, the gram panchayat of Waki, in the same taluka, passed a resolution to put up such boards on May 15 last year. And in December last year, the boards came up in Waki as well. However, these boards either remained unnoticed or were ignored by police and government agencies. It was only recently that the police initiated an inquiry into the matter.
When contacted, Anil Gavad, Deputy Sarpanch of Chikhale, confirmed that signboards in their jurisdiction had been painted to wipe clean the controversial information on it and a gram sabha had been called on February 4, where the issue would be discussed further to cancel the resolution for putting up the boards. Dilip Shingda, Deputy Sarpanch of Waki, said the signboards put up in their jurisdiction have been removed.
Meanwhile, the district administration, Palghar police and intelligence agencies are investigating the matter. According to the probe, those who had proposed the resolution during the gram sabhas of Chikhale and Waki for putting up the signboards are associated with Adivasi Ekta Parishad, an organisation working for the rights of tribals. Police sources said they got information, including documents and photographs, regarding the Patthalgarhi movement through social media.
Probe also revealed that in Chikhale, the person who proposed the resolution also got the signboards prepared and erected. Later, boards of similar design were put up in Waki.
Adivasi Ekta Parishad leader Sunil Pardhad said their organisation had nothing to do with the signboards, and those who proposed the resolution may have been influenced by what they read on social media.
Milind Borikar, chief executive officer of Palghar Zilla Parishad, said a police inquiry was on. “We will decide further course of action based on the police report,” he said.
Palghar District Collector Prashant Narnaware and Superintendent of Police Gaurav Singh were not available for comment.