Telangana: Empowered by PESA, village committees enforce prohibition in tribal areas

The Indian Express | Sreenivas Janyala | Nov 07, 2019

The Telangana government had recently empowered about 600 tribal villages in these districts through PESA to encourage Adivasis to take their own decisions regarding development of their villages.

Following the recent empowerment of tribal areas through implementation of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) 1996, tribals in three districts of Adilabad, Mancherial and Kumaram Bheem Asifabad in Telangana have enforced prohibition in their villages.

The Telangana government had recently empowered about 600 tribal villages in these districts through PESA to encourage Adivasis to take their own decisions regarding development of their villages. Elections were held under PESA and village committees were formed.

After receiving training by Integrated Tribal Development Agency in understanding PESA, tribals from Adilabad, Mancherial and Kumaram Bheem Asifabad districts have been passing resolutions in gram panchayat sabhas to not allow the government to open liquor shops in their villages. Posters and banners have come up with the slogan ‘Kalnisa pani lago’ (say no to liquor). At least 50 shops in six mandals of Kumaram Bheem Asifabad and Adilabad districts have been closed.

“Rampant alcoholism and addiction to liquor has destroyed the lives of Adivasis. Addiction has resulted in their economic ruin. They cannot afford medical treatment and many die prematurely. As much of the family income is spent on liquor, parents are not sending children to school. We want to put an end to this cycle of self-destruction of Adivasis,” said Sidam Arju, a senior adivasi leader and head of Girijana Aikya Vedika, who is leading the campaign to enforce prohibition in tribal areas.

When Excise Department officials told them that it may give rise to illicit liquor, Adivasi leaders gave an undertaking that they would ensure no illicit liquor is manufactured in the agency areas.

After passing resolutions in gram sabhas, the Adivasi leaders have closed all 15 liquor outlets in Jainoor, Lingapur and Sirpur mandals of Kumaram Bheem Asifabad. “Now, we want to close all liquor shops in Narnoor, Indravelli and Utnoor in Adilabad district, and Kasipet and Mandamarri in Macherial district, which have sizeable Adivasi populations. Our aim is to ensure total prohibition in all Adivasi areas. A lot of credit for this campaign goes to students who are telling parents how liquor addiction is ruining families,” said Atram Bhimrao, state secretary of Telangana Girijina Vedika.

TRS MLA from Asifabad Atram Sakku said that people from all tribes and political affiliations have united to ban liquor. “All village gram panchayats are passing the resolutions and sending copies to district collector and local excise officials. Then they are closing liquor shops,” he said.

J Rajyalakshmi, Excise Superintendent, Kumaram Bheem Asifabad district, said, “We are receiving lots of pleas and resolutions from gram sabhas and the government is respecting their wishes. New shops may be opened in non-Adivasi areas in nearby towns.”

Last Friday, villagers of Harkapur passed a unanimous resolution to ban liquor in Indravelli Mandal. The resolution empowered the village committee to close liquor shops. “We have also warned provision store owners to stop selling liquor,” said Adivasi leader Veer Atram.

Krishna Aditya, Project Officer of Integrated Tribal Development Agency, Utnoor (Adilabad), said that training workshops held for the village committees to understand PESA was one of the reasons why villagers were taking a pledge to abstain from liquor. “Adivasis above 40-45 years want to know more about the PESA provision to regulate liquor sale and consumption. They have realised how alcoholism has affected them,” he said.

PESA empowers gram sabhas/panchayats to regulate sale/consumption of intoxicants, safeguard and preserve traditions and customs of people, community resources and customary mode of dispute resolution. It also allows them to carry out executive functions to approve plans.