Gram Nyayalayas in India: About; Composition; Significance; Issues; Way Forward; Conclusion
About Gram Nyayalayas:
- Gram Nyayalayas or village courts are established under the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 as the lowest tier of the judiciary for rural areas.
- This Act came into force on 2 October 2009.
- They are aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas at their doorsteps and for speedy and easy access to the justice system in the rural areas of India.
- It is a mobile court and exercises the powers of both Criminal and Civil Courts. It means that it can try criminal cases, civil suits, claims or disputes which are specified in the First Schedule and the Second Schedule to the Gram Nyayalaya Act. The scope of those cases can be amended by both the Central and the State Governments, as per their respective legislative competence.
- The seat of the Gram Nyayalaya will be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat i.e. Panchayat Samiti. But they will go to villages, work there and dispose of the cases there itself.
- They can follow special procedures in civil matters, in a manner it deems just and reasonable in the interest of justice.
- The appeal in criminal cases and civil cases shall lie to the Court of Session and District Court respectively. These appeals shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of such appeal.
- The orders and verdicts passed by the Gram Nyayalaya are deemed to be a decree.
- They shall be guided by the principles of natural justice and subject to any rule made by the High Court. They are not bound by the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. They allow for conciliation of the dispute and settlement of the same in the first instance.
- Their jurisdiction over an area specified by State Government in consultation with the respective High Court.
- They have both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the offences for example:
- Offences not punishable with death
- imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years.
- Theft as well as receiving or retaining stolen property, where the value of the property stolen does not exceed rupees twenty thousand
- Offences related to central acts such as payment of wages, minimum wages, protection of civil rights, Bonded labour, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act etc.
- Offences under states acts are notified by each state government.
- Civil and Property suits for example use of common pasture, farms, water channels, right to draw water from a well or tube well etc.
- Nyayadhikari presides the Gram Nyayalayas. He will have the same power, enjoy the same salary and benefits of a Judicial Magistrate of First Class. He is to be appointed by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Court (Note: In regular civil/judicial courts, the High Court itself makes appointments).
- They are important to reduce arrears and pendency of cases. It is a part of the judicial reforms. It is estimated that Gram Nyayalayas can reduce around 50% of the pendency of cases in subordinate courts. They can take care of the new litigations which will be disposed of within six months.
- Less number of courts: So far only 11 states have taken steps to notify Gram Nyayalayas. Only 208 ‘Gram Nyayalayas’ are functioning in the country as against 5000 by Gram Nyayalaya act 2008 and 2,500 estimated to be required by the 12th five-year plan.
- The problem of concurrent jurisdiction of regular courts: The majority of states have now set up regular courts at the Taluk level, thus reducing the demand for gram Nyayalayas.
- Shortage of human resources: The progress is affected by the non-availability of judicial officers to function as Gram Nyayadhikaries, Non-availability of notaries, stamp vendors etc.
- Funds: The slow pace of utilisation of funds under the Scheme is mainly due to the lack of proposals from the States for setting up of Gram Nyayalayas, lukewarm response of the Bar. There is also the reluctance of police officials and other State functionaries to invoke jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas.
- Reduction of Pendency: one among the objectives of the Act was to scale back pendency and burden on lower courts within the district but it's revealed that even this has not been fulfilled. the amount of cases disposed of by Gram Nyayalayas is minuscule.
- Functioning: they have been established on a part-time basis (weekly once or twice) and aren’t added to the prevailing courts. They are grappling with systemic defects, lack of practice of recording case data and status, lack of political will etc.
- Lack of awareness: Many of the stakeholders including the litigants, lawyers, police officers and others are not even aware of the existence of Gram Nyayalayas in the district court premises. There are no conferences or seminars organized for creating awareness about this institution.
- Ambiguity in the jurisdiction: Due to the existence of alternative forums such as labour courts, family courts, etc., there is ambiguity and confusion regarding the specific jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas,
- Training of Gram Nyayadhikari: Aside from the legal and procedural requirements of Gram Nyayalayas, training can also include the local language of the community amongst whom they are posted.
- Infrastructure and Security: Separate building for the functioning of the Gram Nyayalaya need to be constructed. The provision also has to be made for providing adequate security to them.
- Establishment of permanent Gram Nyayalayas: they’ll be established in every Panchayats at an intermediate level or group of contiguous Panchayats depending upon the number of disputes that normally arise from that area.
- Creation of awareness among various stakeholders through workshops, Advertisements, Seminars, etc.
- Creation of a regular cadre of Gram Nyayadhikari so that vacancy issues can be tackled.
- The Jurisdiction of the Gram Nyayalayas may be redefined in order to remove the ambiguities regarding the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas, and the Act amended.
Despite these shortcomings, the institution of Gram Nyayalayas has been a positive step. Above everything else they need concrete, well planned and continuous efforts to make them work. The success of these institutions should not only be measured by the number of courts established in different states, but also in terms of reaching out to deprived sections of the society and its role in the overall reduction in the pendency of cases.