The village panchayats or Nyaya panchayats constitute very old and traditional/administrative institutions in India. With the decline of the Mughal empire and the 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 the Village Court Acts… Read More »

The village panchayats or Nyaya panchayats constitute very old and traditional/administrative institutions in India. With the decline of the Mughal empire and the 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 the Village Court Acts of 1888. which created panchayat courts for the administration of justice. The real effort, one can witness,...

The village panchayats or Nyaya panchayats constitute very old and traditional/administrative institutions in India. With the decline of the Mughal empire and the 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 the 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 with 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,

  1. Democratic decentralisation,
  2. Easy access to justice,
  3. speedy disposal of cases,
  4. The inexpensive justice system,
  5. Revival of traditional village community life,
  6. Combination of the judicial system and local self-government, and
  7. Reduction in pressure on Civil Courts.

However, according to the latest reports, this institution is functioning only in a 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 panchayat must be iterate and must be of a minimum of 30 years of age. 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 a fine.

In civil matters, Nyaya panchayat has 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 the 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 panchayats, But, they have the 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 panchayat in any of its proceedings.

Advantages of Nyaya panchayats over the regular courts,

(1) They provide an inexpensive and expeditious mechanism to settle disputes.

(2) They provide relief to the ordinary courts as they lift part of the burden of judicial work on their shoulders. In a way, they emerge on a solution to the problem of mounting arrears of cases before the courts.

(3) They provide justice at the doorsteps 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 justice cannot be According to the 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 a 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.

Suggestive Measures

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,

  1. There should be a panchayat judge and two lay judges in a Nyaya panchayat. Where the panchayat judge should be a legally trained person belonging to the cadre of judges to be specifically set up for the purpose.
  2. In order to select legally trained judges for Nyaya panchayats, the state shall constitute a special cadre of Judges that is Panchayati raj cadre of judges.
  3. The lay judges should be nominated not elected.
  4. The local jurisdiction of the gram Nyayala would be over villages comprised of a Taluka/Tehsil.
  5. 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.
  6. The Nyaya panchayat would follow a simple procedure to dispose of the cases.
  7. Neither the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, nor the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is to be applied in its procedure.
  8. In criminal trials, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is to be applied but the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 should not apply.
  9. Lawyers should be permitted to appear before the Nyaya panchayats.
  10. 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 that may have affected the decision of the Nyaya panchayats to the district courts.
  11. In a 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 Sarpanch 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 Pancha’s belonging to another village. This is possible when a few closely situated villages decide to have one Nyaya Panchayat. The Pancha’s 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 Nyaya Panchayat by the Tehsildar/Sub Divisional Officer or by the District Munsif himself to ensure that the proceedings of the Nyaya Panchayat are free from caste/faction consideration. There should be a 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 at 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 Nyaya Panchayats.

Conclusion

When 65 per cent of our population resides in rural India, there seems to be no escape from some form of Nyaya Panchayat. We need an effective institution that can provide justice near the doorsteps for rural India. Otherwise, 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 the participation of the people. The Seventy-third amendment of the Constitution has given the 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 grassroots level, the Law Commission of India in its one hundred fourteenth Report on Gram Nyayalaya recommended the 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 Rajya Sabha on the 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 the 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) Gram Nyayalaya shall be established for every Panchayat af| intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at the intermediate level in a district or where there is no Panchayat at the intermediate level if any State, for a group of contiguous Panchayats,

(3) 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) 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) Central Government, as well as the State Governments, have been given the power to amend the First Schedule and the Second Schedule of the proposed Bill as per their respective legislative competence,

(6) Gram Nyayalaya shall follow the summary procedure in a 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) 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) 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) 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 the summary procedure for its execution,

(10) 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 the session, which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of such appeal,

(12) 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.


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Updated On 2021-10-02T07:34:13+05:30
Mayank Shekhar

Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is an alumnus of the prestigious Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.

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