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Gist of Editorials, 31 March

The protests over an eco-sensitive zone in Narmada district

General Studies- III (Conservation)

Tribal communities have been protesting since the the district administration served the first notice to execute the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) order.

Tribals, especially from the Tadvi and Vasava communities, have been on the edge ever since Kevadia village in Nandod taluka of Narmada district, was developed into a tourism circuit around the Statue of Unity.

Why are tribal communities protesting against the notification?

  • As per the provisions of the notification, land falling in the eco-sensitive zone cannot be transferred for non-agricultural use for commercial, industrial or residential purposes. 
  • A process has been initiated to include the state government as the co-owner of the land in the 121 villages.
  • The notification, combined with the Statue of Unity Tourism Authority (SoUTA), by the Gujarat government to govern Kevadia, which now has increased administrative needs owing to the booming tourism, has left tribals in a state of mistrust and fear.

The tribal communities feel the simultaneous implementation of the two government decisions could dilute the “power” vested with villagers under the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, implemented in areas notified under Schedule V of the Constitution.

What is PESA?

The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA is a law enacted by the Government of India for ensuring self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas for people living in the Scheduled Areas of India

  • Gujarat notified the State PESA Rules in January 2017, applicable in 4,503 gram sabhas under 2,584 village panchayats in 50 tribal talukas in eight districts of the state.
  • The PESA Act is rooted in the cultural and traditional practices of the tribal community and vests ultimate power to the gram sabha to make administrative decisions. 

What is SoUTA? 

The government passed the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority or the SoU Tourism Authority (SoUTA) Bill last year. 

  • The SoUTA has powers ranging from acquiring land for any development project to taking punitive action against those violating/encroaching it. 
  • The authority will define the limits of the tourism development area and will be empowered to acquire immovable property under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
  • It will largely work as a local body that will prepare and execute a development plan or a town planning scheme.

The Gujarat government’s position:

The Gujarat government has decided to go ahead with its plan to formalise the creation of the new authority for the SoU, which has been aggressively marketed as a tourism destination. 

  • The first circle will include administrators for the Statue of Unity, Shreshth Bharat Bhavan, Gora bridge navigation channel, Jetty service and overall maintenance of the complex.
  • The second circle will include the administrators for all other projects around SoU.
  • Each of the two circles will have 112 employees including two supervisory engineers, an executive engineer (civil) and executive engineer (electrical). 

Source: Indian Express

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