Jaya Prakash Rao has advocating for the protection of livelihood, social and cultural rights of tribals across Central India. Particularly focusing on tribal youth, he is creating a generation of well-informed tribal advocates, who are able to seek redressal through the law.
JP, as he is commonly known, embarked on this mission when he discovered the Bhuria Committee Report with recommendations that, for the first time in the nation’s history, placed decision making power and responsibility on the Gram Sabha, consisting of all the adult members of the village. Recognizing the power in this recommendation, JP travelled across all the Schedule 5 tribal areas in the country, disseminating information about this report, and mobilizing tribal communities to push for the adoption of these recommendations. Ultimately, in 1996, the Panchayat Extension Services Act was enacted, and for the first time in the history of the country, not only was the ‘village’ defined, but all adult members of the village were seen to be equally in control over the village resources, including the forest and mineral resources they depended on.
Since then, JP has been using these provisions to ensure that marginalized and tribal communities in Andhra Pradesh are able to protect themselves from displacement and exploitation. He has mobilized tribal youth from Bhadrachalam to take up Padayatras (on foot tours) against the Polvaram dam project. He organised a large meeting of more than 35000 tribal youths to protest against the project from the areas earmarked for submersion. Additionally, he moved the Supreme Court on the issue of clearances, and convinced the Chief Ministers of Orissa and Chattisgarh, whose residents would be adversely affected by the project, to file inter-state suits against Andhra Pradesh. The Polvaram project is currently being debated in Parliament, with these cases still pending in the Supreme Court, with JP at the helm of the anti-dam movement.
Elected in 2003 for his work on forest management, particularly in engaging multiple actors and stakeholders to take collective ownership of the forests and its produce, JP has been ensuring that tribal communities do not lose their rights to the forest, the land and their livelihoods through excessive state intervention. He is now focusing on getting the Governors of those states with Schedule 5 areas in them, to begin using the provisions in the PESA Act to notify the Gram Sabhas and Panchayats to protect themselves from exploitation, particularly from big mining companies. Through a case that is currently being heard in the Supreme Court, JP hopes that the tribal rights and livelihoods become a key concern for state governments, and that regulatory measures can be put in place to secure these communities in the future.
*This profile was updated February 2014. Please read ahead for the Election Profile