The village panchayats constitute very old and traditional/administrative institution in India. With the decline of Mughal empire and advent of British power, this institution lost its prestige and importance. But, during the later part of the British period they made some effort to restore the condition of village panchayat with Village Court Acts of 1888. which created panchayat courts for the administration of justice.
The real effort, one can witness, was made only after independence, where a separate provision was made in Article 40 of the Constitution of India, which declares, “The State shall take steps to organize village panchayat and endow them with such power and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self government.
The aforesaid Article must be read with Article 39-A of the Constitution which directs the State to ‘secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on the basis of equal opportunity and shall in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation of scheme or in any other way, to ensure that opportunity for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities”. Thanks to the seventy third amendment Act of 1992 the village panchayats have been blessed Constitutional status.
Nyaya Panchayats are the judicial components of the panchayat system, which forms the lowest rung of our judiciary. They are created for the administration of justice at the local or rural level.
Reasons for setting up Nyaya Panchayats
The rationale behind setting up the Nyaya Panchayat are,
- Democratic decentralisation,
- Easy access to justice,
- speedy disposal of cases,
- Inexpensive justice system,
- Revival of traditional village community life,
- Combination of judicial system and local self government, and
- Reduction in pressure on Civil Courts.
However, according to the latest reports, this institution is functioning only in handful of states.
Constitution of Nyaya Panchayats
Nyaya Panchayats constitutes a Sarpanch as its head and ^few panchai (generally it varies between10 to 30). Each member of Nyaya panchyat must be iterate and must be of minimum 30 years ofage. The appointment is based on1 nomination and election
Jurisdiction of Nyaya Panchayats
It has judicial functions both in civil as well as in criminal fields. It can deal with several minor offences) like simple hurt, wrongful restraint, theft etc, and punish an accused to pay fine.
In civil matters nyaya panchayat have jurisdiction in cases like suits for money and goods etc. The pecuniary limit of such cases is very low.
Procedure in Nyaya Panchayats
The procedure laid down for trial of cases has been so designed as to avoid delays and technical difficulties. Therefore procedure followed in nyaya panchayats is very simple and informal. The procedure codes like Code of Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act apply to the nyaya panchyats, But, they have power to call witnesses and the parties for recording their evidence or producing any relevant document or fact. Unlike courts, they have the power to investigate the facts to find out the truth and at the same time they have the power to punish for its contempt. Lawyers cannot appear before a nyaya panchyat in anyl of its proceedings
Advantages of nyaya panchayats over the regular courts,
(1) They provide a inexpensive and expeditious mechanism to settle disputes.
(2) They provide relief to the ordinary courts as they lift the part of burden of judicial work on their shoulders. In a way, they are emerged on solution to the problem of mounting arrears of cases before the courts.
(3) They provide justice at the door steps for the village folks,
(4) They provide protection to the local customs and traditions,
(5) Panchayat System has a great educative value for the villagers.
Disadvantages of nyaya panchayats
(1) They are faction ridden institutions manned by laymen. Justice provided by them is based on caste, community, personal or political considerations. Therefore, chances of injustice cannot be ignored,
(2) It has been seen that panchas are often corrupt, partial and behave improperly or rudely.
(3) They are laymen, therefore ignorant of law and they often give arbitrary and irrational decisions,
(4) One cannot ignore that castism and groupings are major features of rural India and therefore the influence of these shades on the justice cannot be According to 77th Report of the Law Commission, wherein it observed that, it will be a backward step to revert to the premitive method of administration of justice by taking out disputes to a group of ordinary laymen ignorant of modern complexities of life and not conversant with legal concepts and procedures.
The Mehta Committee did not get very enthusiastic response on the continuation and working of the nyaya panchayat. It opposed the combination of judicial and executive functions in one body and also recommended qualified judges to preside over nyaya panchayat.
Law Commission in its 114th Report concluded that, “with the safeguards designed to ensure nyaya panchayats proper working and improvement. These courts are capable of playing a very necessary and useful part in the administration of justice in the country.” In this Report the Law Commission presented a new model for the establishment of nyaya panchayats.
The suggested model is as follows,
- There should be a panchayat judge and two lay judges in a nyaya panchayat. Where the panchayat judge should be legally trained person belonging to the cadre of judges to be specifically set up for the purpose.
- In order to select legally trained judge for nyaya panchayats the state shall constitute a special cadre of Judges that is panchayati raj cadre of judges.
- The lay judges should be nominated not elected.
- The-local jurisdiction of the gram nyayala would be over villages comprised in a Taluka/Tehsil.
- There would be no monetary ceiling on its jurisdiction. A broad civil jurisdiction should be given, and the criminal jurisdiction should be equal to that of a judicial magistrate of first class.
- The nyaya panchayat would follow a simple procedure to dispose the cases.
- Neither the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, nor the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is to be applied in its procedure.
- In criminal trials, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is to be applied but Indian Evidence Act, 1872 should not applicable.
- Lawyers should be permitted to appear before the nyaya panchyats.
- No appeal shall lie in civil cases from the decisions of the nyaya panchayats But a revision petition may lie to correct errors of law which may have affected the decision of the nyaya panchayats to the district courts.
- In criminal case, an appeal would lie to the sessions courts against the decisions of the nyaya panchayats in which it was imposed a substantive sentence of imprisonment^
Moreover, as was recommended by the Civil Justice Committee, each party may be allowed to choose its own pancha and the Sarpancha or the Presiding Officer of the Panchayat Court should have a casting vote. Yet another improvement to ensure impartiality can be to bring the dispute between two parties belonging to a particular village before the panchas belonging to another village. This is possible when a few closely situated villages decide to have one Nayaya Panchayat. The Panchas belonging to another village will have no interest in the case or the dispute and will be in a position to impart justice.
Even, otherwise, there should be regular inspection of the Nayaya Panchayat by the Tehsildar/Sub Divisional Officer or by the District Munsif himself to ensure that the proceedings of the Nayaya Panchayat are free from caste/faction consideration. There should bea provision for an appeal to the Munsif in case any party feels aggrieved by the decision. Such provision should be there to keep a check on the functioning of the Panchayats.
To ensure impartiality, the District Munsif should have the power to transfer a case from a Panchayat and decide it himself. It could be done on the request of a litigant who may feel that justice would be denied to him by the village Panchayat. Such provision will act as a good check on the function and performance of the Nayaya Panchayats.
When 65 percent of our population resides in rural India, there seems to be no escape from some form of nyaya panchayat. We need an effective institution which can provide justice near to the door steps for the rural India. Otherwise, the justice will remain to be for the urban courts, which is far from the reach of poor rural people. Therefore, to provide a semblance of justice, Nyaya panchayats in some form have to be created on the basis of participation of the people. The Seventy third amendment of the Constitution has given right direction in this regard.
GRAM NYAYALAYA ACT, 2008
Access to justice by the poor and the disadvantaged remains a worldwide problem. Article 39-A of the Constitution directs the State to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on the basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
To give effect to the said mandate the Government has taken various measures to strengthen the judicial system by simplifying the procedural laws, incorporating various alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as arbitrator, conciliation and mediation, conducting of Lok Adalats, etc., establishing Fast Track Courts, special Courts and Tribunals/and providing free legal aid to the poor Women and children.
To provide access to justice at the grass roots level, the Law Commission of India in its one hundred fourteenth Report on Gram Nyayalaya recommended establishment of Gram Nyayalayas so that speedy, inexpensive and substantial justice could be provided to the common man. Accordingly, the Government introduced the Gram Nyayalayas Bill, 2007 in Rajva Sabha on fifteenth July, 2007 to give effect to the said’ recommendations of the Law Commissions.
The salient features of the present Bill are as follows,
(1) The Gram Nyayalaya shall be court of Judicial Magistrate of the first class and its presiding officer (Nyayadhikari) shall be appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High Court. The qualifications, salary, terms and conditions of service of the Nyayadhikari shall be the same as that of the Judicial Magistrate of the first class,
(2) the Gram Nyayalaya shall be established for every Panchayat af| intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at intermediate level in a district or where there is no Panchayat at intermediate level if any State, for a group of contiguous Panchayats,
(3) the Gram Nyayalaya shall be a mobile court and shall exercise the powers of both Criminal and Civil Courts. The pecuniary jurisdiction of the civil suits, etc shall be notified by the concerned High Court,
(4) 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 proposed Bill,
(5) the Central Government as well as the State Governments have been given power to amend the First Schedule and the Second Schedule of the proposed Bill as per their respective legislative competence,
(6) the Gram Nyayalaya shall follow summary procedure in criminal trial as provided under sub-section (1) of Section 262 and Sections 262, 264 and 265 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 with certain modifications and as regards other matters which are not provided in the Bill, the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure shall be applicable,
(7) the Gram Nyayalaya shall exercise the powers of a Civil Court with certain modifications and shall follow the special procedure as provided in the Bill, as regards other matters which are not provided in the Bill, the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 shall be applicable,
(8) 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,
(9) 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,
(10) the Gram Nyayalaya shall not be bound by the rules of evidence provided in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 but shall be guided by the principles of natural justice and subject to any rule made by the High Court,
(11) an appeal from the judgment, sentence or order of the Gram Nyayalaya in criminal cases, to the extent provided in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 shall lie to the Court of session, which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of such appeal,
(12) an appeal from the judgment and order of the Gram Nyayalaya in civil cases, to the extent provided in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 shall lie to the District Court which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of the appeal,
(13) a person accused of an offence may file an application for plea bargaining in which such offence is pending trial and the same will be disposed of by that Gram Nyayalaya in accordance with the provisions of Chapter twenty one of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.