The Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Area) Act, 1996 (PESA) was designed to implement the constitutional requirement of self-government in Adivasi regions. It aimed to empower the gram sabha (village council) to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and customary dispute resolution practices. The goal of strengthening local institutions for sustainable self-government was a long held aspiration, originally championed by Mahatma Gandhi for post-independence India. The realisation of this dream came 45 years later with the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1993, which provided a structural framework for the traditional self-governing institutions, ensuring their effectiveness. This amendment aimed for democratic decentralization, where decision making is downwardly countable through statutory bodies, notably the Panchayat Raj system in India.
PESA was an extension of the principles of Part IX of the Constitution and the 5th Schedule and it intended to stablish a more robust form of decentralisation. It mandated the evolution of certain political, administrative and fiscal powers to local governments elected by Adivasi communities in their jurisdiction . It’s objective was to engage Adivasi communities in limited self-governance and empower them to protect their customs and manage community resources. However, the ostensible radical approach of the government where it sought to achieve a bottom up form of governance, ended up vesting eminent domain to the state, thereby heading towards centralisation and standardisation in the guise of participatory democracy.