Gram Sabha – Response to Climate Change


Awanish Somkuwar

India is observing the year 2009-10 as the Year of Gram Sabha. It assumes significance in the context of the ongoing dialogues on climate change. Announcement of the Gram Sabha Year offers a space for strategic thinking on how Gram Sabha can contribute in mitigating the impact of climate change and improve common understanding on climate change issues. This is the most appropriate time to recognize and acknowledge the role of Gram Sabha in combating the situations caused by climate change. It is also the right time to enlist the expectations from Gram Sabha on such major issues concerning people at the grass root level.

India has pioneered in establishment of decentralized system of governance through 73rd constitutional amendment. India is a vibrant democracy. The three tier Panchayat system has added a new dimension by defining socio-political behaviour of the rural India. Here rural population specially the tribal population is full of wisdom, which remains unchallenged even in the modern age of computer science. Spiritual perception of environment, unflinching faith in the miraculous powers of Nature, knowledge of medical flora and inherent respect for eco-systems are some essentials behaviours exhibited in the public conduct by ethnic groups play a major role in practicing environmental ethics. India can take a lead on advocating how grass-root level democratic institutions like Gram Sabha can effectively address climate change issues if enlightened on emerging scenario.

On observing year 2009-10 as the “Year of Gram Sabha”, the Prime Minister said that the Gram Sabha provides a forum for the villagers to discuss, deliberate, accept or reject the proposals of Gram Panchayat. The Union Minister for Panchayati Raj and Rural Development Minister Dr. C.P. Joshi said it is the need of the hour for the Panchayati Raj Institutions to play a pro-active role in the developmental process of our country. Dr. Joshi called upon the people’s representatives especially those from the rural areas to work as a catalysts of social change and add to the process of economic development and social justice.

The recently released World Development Report clearly illustrates the equation of climate change, development and poverty. It cautions that the development gains can be reversed by adverse impact of climate change both on human population and farming systems. “The bio-diversity and eco-system services in changing climate have also been threatened”. “Land-based activities can support bio-diversity”, the report further says. Countries like India can have hopes from grassroots level peoples’ institutions. The Gram Sabha needs to be sensitized about the possible impact. There is no clear communication path between high profile forums and the community institutions despite the fact that the responsibility will ultimately fall on the community.

Recently a Memorandum of Agreement on climate change has been signed between India and China for partnership on strengthening dialogues and practical cooperation. While India is in dialogue with global institutions and countries, downward communication is missing. An intensive campaign to inform Gram Sabha about the key agenda is urgently needed. The forum of Gram Sabha can be constructively utilized for improving the popular understanding of climate change and emerging challenges. Better understanding on climate change will encourage voluntary adaptation of low-carbon emissions.

A series of documents and reports on climate change have appeared generating a worldwide debate. Why Gram Sabha should remain ignorant? The state governments must come forward to celebrate the spirit of Gram Sabha Year. The simple strategy should be to publish summary of important documents in local dialects. It would not only ensure the revival of dying out dialects but also help vital information reach out to the genuine stakeholders. For example, Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act 2006 was published in Gondi, Bhili and Korku dialects in Madhya Pradesh and was read out in Gram Sabha meetings and was well-received. Lucidly written literature on climate change in local dialects can be extremely helpful.

The Central Government has prescribed a number of initiatives for the states to be taken up during Gram Sabha Year. In the context of United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen, the immediate step is to equip the Gram Panchayat headquarters with relevant information whether in print or audio-visual formats. A series of orientation sessions can be held for Panchayat functionaries and representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions. The Government has asked the states to conduct social audits of works done under NREGA and monitor the performance of other rural development schemes. A step further, dialogues on climate change and related issues can also be initiated.

Article 243A of Indian Constitution provides that a Gram Sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the legislature of a State may, by law, provide. In the context, Madhya Pradesh has enacted Panchayat and Gram Swaraj Act 1993 following which there is a Gram Sabha for every village. It is duty of the Gram Sabha to suggest corrective measures for preventing environmental degradation by promoting land improvement, plantations, organic farming, and community-led management of watersheds, clean development mechanisms and conservation of bio-diversity. Gram Sabha can assume educative role to motivate every member to keep the earth cool and green. States have given enough powers to Gram Sabha and have realized their importance. Now the stage has come when they need to be an active player in the process of dialogues on bigger issues.


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