This article is written by Shaily Garg, a Fourth year B.Com. LLB (Hons.) Student of University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
At the village level, Panchayati Raj or self-governance is an indispensable part of democratic governance. Resolving disputes between the parties at the village level can also be delegated to these self-government bodies in India. If the object of the reform is fair, quick, and inexpensive justice to the common people, there can be no better way to pursue the objective by invoking participatory systems at the grass-root level for simpler disputes so that judicial time at higher levels is reserved only for a hard and complex litigation. Since the Indian formal legal system has suffered from the mounting problems of delay in disposal of cases, a major strand of India’s response to these problems has been turned to informal, ostensibly ‘traditional’ models of dispute resolution. The earliest example of this is the ‘Nyaya Panchayats’ introduced by various states a little before Indian Independence, providing justice to the people at the village level. However, their failure in the 1980s warned policymakers against attempting to recreate traditional models of dispute redressal as means to mitigate the burdens on the formal system.
Every citizen in India cannot afford litigation and this kind of state affairs makes common people, especially rural people, cynical about the judicial process. Therefore, an ADR (Alternative Dispute Redressal) mechanism should be taken beyond the cities, consequently, in 2009, ‘The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008’ came into operation which specifically provides for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas at the grass root levels to furnish access to justice to the citizens at their doorstep and to ensure that chances for assuring justice are not repudiated to any citizen because of social, economic or other disabilities.
Enactment of the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008
The Supreme Court of India had directed the states to establish ‘Gram Nyayalayas’ after the act came into force on 2nd October 2009. So far only 11 states have taken steps in establishing Gram Nyayalayas. Also, several states have issued notifications for establishing ‘Gram Nyayalayas’ but all of them were not functioning except in Kerala, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Only 208 Gram Nyayalayas are functioning in the country as against 25,000 estimated to be required by the 12th five-year plan. Gram Nyayalayas are intended to process 60 to 70 percent of rural litigation leaving the regular courts to commit their time to composite civil and criminal matters. With participatory, flexible machinery accessible at the village level where non-adversarial, settlement-oriented procedures are used. Therefore, rural people now have a fair, quick, and inexpensive system of dispute settlement through the introduction of Gram Nyayalayas in the dispute resolution machinery.
Establishment of Gram Nyayalayas
In terms of Section 3 of the Act of 2008, it is for the State Government to establish one or more Gram Nyayalayas for every Panchayat at an intermediate level in consultation with the respective High Courts. Also, the State Government has the authority to specify the jurisdiction of the Gram Nyayalayas after consulting with the respective High Courts. The headquarters of every Gram Nyayalayas is the intermediate Panchayat in which the Gram Nyayalayas is established as per Section 4 of the Act.
The Nyayadhikari- Appointment, Qualifications, etc. (Sec. 5-9)
- The Nyayadhikari is appointed by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Courts. Nyayadhikari shared the same qualifications, powers, salary, and other allowances of Judicial Magistrate of the First Class.
- The Nyayadhikari cannot preside over the proceedings of a Gram Nyayalaya in which he has any interest or association in the subject matter of the dispute or is related to any party to such proceedings. If such a situation arises, then the matter is referred to the District Court or the Court of Session.
- The Nyayadhikari can perform a function as a mobile court at any place within the jurisdiction of such Gram Nyayalayas, after providing wide publicity to that regard.
Jurisdiction, Power and Authority of Gram Nyayalayas (Section 11-17)
- The Gram Nyayalayas have jurisdiction over both Civil and Criminal cases.
- In Criminal matters, the Gram Nyayalayas can take cognizance of any offence specified in Part I of the first schedule on a complaint of an aggrieved person or a police report. Also, offences under the enactments included in Part II of the First Schedule can be tried by the Gram Nyayalayas.
- In Civil matters, the Gram Nyayalayas have jurisdiction to try all suits or proceedings which fall under the classes of disputes specified in Part I of the First Schedule.
- The Central Government has the power to amend any item in Part I or Part II of the First Schedule by notification which is laid before each House of Parliament.
- The State Government has the power to amend any item in Part III of the First Schedule or Part III of the Second Schedule by notification in consultation with the respective High Courts.
- The provisions of the Limitation Act, 1963 can be made applicable to the suits triable by the Gram Nyayalayas.
- The provisions of Chapter XXXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 applies to the offences triable by the Gram Nyayalayas.
- The District Court or the Court of Session can transfer all the pending civil matters or criminal matters to the competent Gram Nyayalayas. It is the discretion of the Gram Nyayalayas to either reiterate the cases or proceed from the stage at which it was transferred.
- The nature, categories, functions, and appointment of employees to assist a Gram Nyayalaya is determined by the State Government.
Proceedings under the Act
- The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 stipulates the applicability of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in matters of criminal nature presented before the Gram Nyayalayas. However, at first, the cases are going to be speedily disposed of following a simplified procedure, and only at the discretion of the Nyayadhikari a methodical trial procedure be followed. These are provisioned under Section 18 and 19 of the Act.
- Gram Nyayalayas can follow special procedures in civil matters, in a matter it seems just and reasonable in the interest of justice.
- Civil suits are proceeded on a day-to-day basis, with limited adjournments, and are to be disposed of within six months from the date of institution of the suit.
- The Gram Nyayalayas are not bound by the statutes of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 but shall be commanded by the principles of natural justice and subject to any rules made by the High Court. Also, the Gram Nyayalayas can use those evidence that is not mentioned in the Indian Evidence Act.
- The Gram Nyayalayas have to make efforts for conciliation in solving civil matters and persuading the parties to conciliate where there is a reasonable possibility of a settlement between the parties.
- In case of Criminal matters, an appeal shall lie to the Court of Session, which shall be heard and disposed of within six months from the date of filing of such appeal.
- An appeal in civil cases shall lie to the District Court, which shall be heard and disposed of within six months from the date of filing of such appeal.
- The police officers functioning within the local limits of the jurisdiction of a Gram Nyayalaya are duty bound to assist the Gram Nyayalayas in the exercise of its lawful authority.
- The Nyayadhikaris and the other officers employed under this Act will act as a Public Servant within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Challenges faced by Gram Nyayalayas in India
Gram Nyayalayas are established to devolve justice delivery to the fourth tier, to ensure equal access to justice, to reduce the burden of high courts, to deliver speedy justice, to reduce the costs associated with litigation for the common man, and to reduce dependency on extra-constitutional forums of justice. However, the Gram Nyayalayas are not properly functioning in various states in India because of the following reasons:
- There is a lack of infrastructures like buildings, office spaces, and other related equipment.
- There is a lack of manpower resources, notaries, stamp vendors, etc, at the sub-district level.
- Lawyers, Police officials, and other Government officers are not aware of this Act.
- The hesitation of state functionaries to invoke the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas
- Setting up of legal services institutions at the Taluk level reducing the dependency on Gram Nyayalayas.
- Enforcement agencies are non-cooperative.
Suggestions for the Improvement of Gram Nyayalayas
- The Nyayadhikari should be trained according to the rural setup and also in the local language of that particular area.
- Providing building, staff, etc. for Gram Nyayalayas and provisioning them within the state budget. Separate space for accommodation to the Nyayadhikari and other staff members should also be provided.
- Creation of awareness among various stakeholders.
- Establishing a regular cadre of Gram Nyayadhikaris where all the officers have to see social work apart from the law.
- Describing the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas and re-defining it to withdraw any ambiguities.
- Instituting permanent Gram Nyayalayas at the intermediate level in a satisfactory situation proving easy access to the common people.
Conclusion The foundation of the Gram Nyayalayas has been considered a major positive step towards reducing the burden on the judiciary system in India. However, for its proper functioning, it has to channelized in an efficient manner so that its objectives can be achieved. More emphasis should be made on educating young lawyers and law graduates to see the Gram Nyayalayas as an opportunity.