Science & Technology
13th Feb, 2020
The Supreme Court has asked state governments to issue notifications establishing "Gram Nyayalayas" within four weeks and also asked the High Courts to accelerate consultation with department concerned on the matter.
- A bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana took into account that except Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, Gram Nyayalayas are not functional in many states, though all had been issued notice.
- The Parliament in 2008 passed an Act for setting up of "Gram Nyayalayas" to enable access to justice to citizens at the doorstep, especially at the grass roots level, and to ensure socio-economic factors do not stand as an impediment for securing justice.
- Many states including Gujarat, Haryana, Telangana, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha are yet to file affidavits even after the apex court order in October last year.
- In view of the above, the court directed the states, who have not yet issued notifications for establishing the Gram Nyayalayas, to issue the same.
- In the January 29 order, the top court said the aforementioned states should file their affidavits, subject to deposit of Rs 1 lakh by each of the above-mentioned states with the Registrar (Judicial) of the court.
What are Gram Nyayalayas?
- The law envisages that a Gram Nyayalaya be established for every Panchayat at the intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at the intermediate level in a district, which will be in addition to other courts established under any law.
- Gram Nyayalayas are mobile village courts in India established for speedy and easy access to justice system in the rural areas of India.
- They are aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas at their doorsteps.
- Each Nyayalaya will be presided over by a judicial officer who is eligible to be appointed as judicial magistrate of the first class.
- Every such appointment is to be made by the State government in consultation with the High Court of that State.
- With Article 40 of the Constitution of India (Directive Principles of State Policy) and the 73rd amendment of the Constitution, under Article 243, Gram Panchayats got the status of ‘local self-government’.
Salient features of the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008:
- The Ministry of Law had set up Gram Nyayalays in 2009 to provide a cost-effective forum at the grass-root level for the poor living in villages to settle legal matters. It was established by the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008.
- The Gram Nyayalaya shall be established for every Panchayat at intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at intermediate level in a district or where there is no Panchayat at intermediate level in any State, for a group of contiguous Panchayats.
- The seat of the Gram Nyayalaya will be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat; they will go to villages, work there and dispose of the cases.
- Head of the Gram Nyayalayas:
- The Nyayadhikaris who will preside over these Gram Nyayalayas are strictly judicial officers and will be drawing the same salary, deriving the same powers as First Class Magistrates working under High Courts.
- He shall be appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High Court.
- The Gram Nyayalaya shall be a mobile court and shall exercise the powers of both Criminal and Civil Courts.
- The Gram Nyayalaya shall try criminal cases, civil suits, claims or disputes which are specified in the First Schedule and the Second Schedule to the Act.
- The Central as well as the State Governments have been given power to amend the First Schedule and the Second Schedule of the Act, as per their respective legislative competence.
- The Gram Nyayalaya shall exercise the powers of a Civil Court with certain modifications and shall follow the special procedure as provided in the Act.
- The Gram Nyayalaya shall try to settle the disputes as far as possible by bringing about conciliation between the parties and for this purpose; it shall make use of the conciliators to be appointed for this purpose.
- The Gram Nyayalaya shall follow summary procedure in criminal trial.
- The judgment and order passed by the Gram Nyayalaya shall be deemed to be a decree and to avoid delay in its execution; the Gram Nyayalaya shall follow summary procedure for its execution.
Where states stand?
- About 18 states have failed to constitute any Gram Nyayalayas over the past ten years, frustrating the object of the Act to provide ‘access to justice’ to all.
- So far only 11 states have taken steps to notify Gram Nyayalayas.
- At present, only 208 ‘Gram Nyayalayas’ are functioning in the country as against 2,500 estimated to be required by the 12th five-year plan.
Why states are avoiding Gram Nyaylayas?
- Major reasons behind the non-enforcement include financial constraints, reluctance of lawyers, police and other government officials.
- Finance is the main stumbling block because no state wants to burden its exchequer.
- Apart from finance and political will, lack of coordination between high courts and state governments has also delayed setting up of gram nyayalaya.
Modernization of Gram Panchayats:
- After the Constitutional Amendment 73rd Act came into existence, the modernization of the Panchayat System started.
- However, the journey of the decentralized way of governing localities started with Lord Ripon’s Resolution(1882) and continues till date with the most popular and comprehensive study report by the BR Mehta committee (1957-58), Ashok Mehta Committee (1978-80) and Sarkaria Commission (1988).
- While decentralisation has been realised in many other spheres, the journey began in the justice dispensation system only with the passing of the Gram Nyayalya Act, 2008.
- After almost 12 rounds of studies conducted by the Law Commission of India itself, the nation got Gram Nyayalayas Actin 2008 which was enforced on 7th Jan 2009.
- These major incidents brought a major shift in the paradigm and the reformation and modernization of the Panchayati Raj System.
- Non-establishment of Gram Nyayalayas frustrates statutory rights provided to citizens under the Act as well as the constitutional right of rural citizens to access to justice under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
Significance of Gram Nyayalayas:
- The setting up of Gram Nyayalayas is considered as an important measure to reduce arrears and 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 and can take care of the new litigations which will be disposed within six months.
- The second premise on which the gram nyayalaya initiative rests is that diversion of disputes away from the formal, expensive and slow existing legal system towards a relatively informal, localized model of dispute resolution has justice enhancing consequences.
- The gram nyayalayas are not only going to divert the existing disputes away from the civil and criminal court system and thereby speed up dispute resolution in the legal system. Instead they are likely to spawn a new arena where disputes which were hitherto resolved through other dispute processing mechanisms will now enter the legal system.