Just like the Patthalgarhi movement in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh last year, a few tribal-dominated villages in Dahanu taluka of Palghar district, on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, have put up signboards announcing that laws made by Parliament or the State Assembly are not applicable in these areas.
The red signboards, put up in public spaces, are titled: “Bharatiya Samvidhan – Panchvi Anusuchit Kshetra (Constitution of India – Fifth Schedule Area). Citing Article 244 of the Indian Constitution, related to administration and control of tribal-dominated areas identified in the Fifth Schedule, the signboards warn visitors that they are in a scheduled area.
They claim 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)”.
[While Article 19 (1) (d) and (e) of the Constitution gives every citizen the right to “move freely throughout the territory of India” and to “reside and settle in any part of the territory of India”, Article 19 (5) carries one of the exceptions to this. It says “nothing in sub clauses (d) and (e) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevents the state from making any law imposing, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of any of the rights conferred by the said sub clauses either in the interests of the general public or for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe.]
During the Patthalgarhi movement last year, several villages of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh put up similar messages inscribed on stone slabs, seeking to declare the supremacy of the gram sabha while asking the government to stay away.
In Maharashtra, these signboards were first put up in villages under Chikhale gram panchayat in Dahanu taluka some time 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 same time the Pathalgadi movement was taking shape in the two eastern states.
Taking a cue from Chikhale, the gram panchayat of Waki, in the same taluka, also passed a similar resolution on May 15 last year. And in December last year, similar boards came up in Waki area as well.
However, these boards either remained unnoticed or were ignored by police and government agencies. It is only now that the police have got in touch with the two gram panchayats. On January 19, assistant police inspector Sambhaji Yadav, of Gholwad police station, issued letters to the sarpanch and gram sewak of Chikhale and Waki gram panchayats, seeking information about the resolutions passed by them.
On January 24, Anita Kavate, sarpanch of Chikhale gram panchayat, along with deputy sarpanch Anil Gavad and gram sewak Manoj Ingle, visited the police station with details of the resolution passed on May 1, 2017. The resolution, proposed by one Chetan Uradya of Chikhale, reported to be a member of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad, claims that “as per the Fifth Shedule, 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”. It claims that laws like the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code do not apply in these areas.
It further states that the “government cannot take over any land in the scheduled areas”, and these areas have an “autonomous government”. “So we will not give our land for any government projects like Mumbai-Delhi corridor, bullet train, proposed dams, bridges, liquor shops and others. We pass a resolution to put up boards in this regard as per the provisions of the Constitution,” it says.
Following their interaction with police, the Chikhale gram panchayat office-bearers have conceded that some of the information on the signboards is inaccurate and not in accordance with Constitutional provisions. They have agreed to change this, after getting a resolution passed by the gram panchayat.
The gram panchayat met on Saturday (January 26) to discuss the issue, but had to adjourn the meeting in the absence of a quorum. “We have called another meeting on February 11,” said Ingle, the gram sewak.
“It seems that some of the information on the boards is not accurate. We lack legal knowledge and did not verify the information. But we are ready to make the correction. We are a peaceful and law-abiding village with about 80 per cent tribal population, where people from all communities are respected. I am not a tribal but I have never faced any problem in the village,” said Deputy Sarpanch Kavad.
Sunil Pardhad of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad, which works for the rights of Scheduled Tribes, said his organisation was not involved in putting up these signboards. “We have nothing to do with the boards put up in the villages of Dahanu. We believe that those who proposed the resolution may have got influenced with what they read on social media about the rights of tribals and the Patthalgarhi agitation. We are not running any gram panchayat. People from different political parties are members of gram panchayats where the resolution was passed,” he said.
B N Gangad, the gram sewak of Waki, said his gram panchayat had merely followed in the footsteps of Chikhale. “We have now been able to verify the Constitutional provisions. The information on the boards is different from what is mentioned in the Constitution,” he admitted.
Government sources, meanwhile, said no untoward incident had been reported as a result of the signboards, but the villagers would be asked to remove “misleading” information. They said an investigation was underway to assess how this “misleading” information reached the villagers.
“Police are inquiring into the matter. We will decide the further course of action after receiving a report from the police,” Milind Borikar, chief executive officer of Palghar Zilla Parishad, said.