FROM NYAYA PANCHAYATS TO GRAM NYAYALAYAS: THE INDIAN STATE AND RURAL JUSTICE.
The Constitution of India is a document having, ideals, rights, philosophy and morality of the people of India. “Justice for all” is envisaged in the directive principles of state policy under Art. 39-A of the Constitution, this article of the Constitution imposes a duty on the State to put into operation a legal system which makes sure that equal opportunity is given to everyone for ensuring justice, and no citizen should be denied of justice on grounds of economic or other incapacities which may occur. “Access to Justice” is a fundamental right as pronounced by the Supreme Court, it is the most essential ingredient of Right to Life which is enshrined in Art. 21 of the Constitution.
The functioning of the legal system in India has gone through numerous turbulences since the Indian Independence. The Indian legal system was brought into force in India by the British Government, may key functionaries have still been the same but after independence, there were reforms carried out and an example of one of these reforms were Nyaya Panchayats, the key innovation in system of Nyaya Panchayat was, to bring in the innovatory idea of 'panchayat- based' resolution of disputes. Such a dispute resolution system was introduced into the official legal system. But around the 1970s this said system almost disappeared. So as regards to rural justice, district courts were the only way which was accessible to rural India for dispute resolution.
In 2008, to lift inaccessibility to justice in rural India, the parliament of India passed the Gram Nyayalayas Act, the legislative intent behind this act was to create a rural level judicial tier, which was easily available to rural people for litigation, and an effective decentralization of power, this was envisaged by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi during the constituent assembly debates.
Reform of rural justice in India.
Nyaya Panchayat - Panchayat at the village level, is one of the evoked ideas of the constituent assembly, the Law Commission of India envisaged in its 114th report, that the village panchayat was central to rural justice, such panchayats are created by villagers themselves, it can be concluded on a prima facie basis that it is a perfect small democracy, but during the British rule, THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON DECENTRALIZATION in 1907 was the first to recommend that village panchayat should hold, judicial and administrative powers, in the Madras Presidency, the Nyaya panchayats were exempted from observing the CPC, Cr. P. C or other procedural laws, in some States lawyers were not allowed to appear before the Nyaya Panchayat. The presence of respected members and popularly elected leaders was the most significant feature of this system because this ensured that Nyaya Panchayat was widely respected among the masses of the village folk. Later on, this system was faced with various difficulties and irrationalities, because there were problems like overlapping jurisdiction and financial issues, at the same time, the member of the panchayat who was to adjudicate on a dispute was supposedly required to be in coherence with the substantive law.
As suggested by the Law Commission of India in 1986, Gram Nyayalayas were set-up in around 5000 villages across India, a Gram Nyayalay can be understood as a rural court having three members on its bench, which is to be headed by a judicial officer. Wider jurisdiction in criminal matters may have been vested in Gram Nyayalayas because of the presence of a judicial person who was to be appointed by a panel of judges. It was envisaged by the Law Commission that a simple procedure containing a combination of CPC, Cr. P. C or Evidence Act should be formed.
The Gram Nyayalaya Act of 2008 contains some of the features as recommended by the Law Commission in its 114th Report, there have been some points in the Act, where the parliament has demonstrated differences with the Law Commission.
In matter of adjudication, the Act of 2008 that a Nyayalaya should be headed by a single judicial person, in stark contrast with the law commission report, whereas in criminal cases Cr.P.C should be strictly followed, but there is a warning laid out in the Act that all these cases will be heard on a summary trial procedure. In civil cases, a procedure is prescribed in the Act, also there is an extra clause giving the Nyayalaya extra powers to adopt any procedure in the interest of justice. In the Act, there is no ban on lawyers from practicing in the said Nyayalaya, but the most appreciated part of the act is that there is a mandatory conciliation of a dispute, which is to be adjudicated upon.
Analysis and Recommendations.
Gram Nyayalayas are considerably different from Nyaya Panchayat system. If we briefly summarise the provisions, Gram Nyayalaya are rural courts with judicial members in it, who are deciding cases on the basis of substantive and procedural laws as specified and mentioned in the Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008. A special mention should be given to criminal cases where it is compulsory that the Cr.P.C. is given the utmost importance.
The biggest drawback of the Act is that there are judges and lawyers who tend to make it into a formal litigation, where there is no speedy disposal of cases, instead, it goes into years of lengthy litigation. Therefore, in the light of the above discussion and facts and legal aspects, it is recommended that the act should be suitably amended with the henceforth legal provisions :
· Along with a judicial member, other members of the village community should be present wherein the judge decides the questions of law and rest of the members ensure peaceful adjudication and reconciliation of the whole matter in front of them.
· The procedural laws should be relaxed to a great extent, instead principles of natural justice should be the only procedure which is followed.
· Greater Extent to jurisdiction should be vested in the Gram Nyayalayas.
Gram Nyayalaya is an effective example of decentralization of power, wherein it is concluded that the main intention of the parliament was to provide :
· Rural Justice : It could have been achieved if the parliament had followed the recommendations of the law commission.
· Social Justice : It could have been achieved if there were local village people participating in the Gram Nyayalaya.
Authored By: Raunak Sood
Bennett University, Greater Noida.