Access to justice for the last-mile population has remained a forward issue in India. The reach of effective, just, affordable justice is imperative to liquidate the essence of laws passed and experience a democratic covenant against any unjust disability broadcasting effective adjudication of law. Gram Nyayalayas Act,2008 was passed with the view of setting up an additional tier of justice delivery in addition to the existing Supreme Court, High Court(s), and Subordinate courts at the grassroots level naming “Gram Nyayalayas”. To ensure coverage of justice is not restricted to flourish among urban and privileged classes. Assuring justice delivery at the grass root level is not a condition to socio-economic or other disabilities and adding a measure to scale down the pendency of cases in various courts.
Need for Gram Nyayalayas
India has remained an Agrarian economy registering 70 percent of its demography residing in rural areas. Lack of proper infrastructure, and awareness, and even if they decide to approach court paperwork, advocate fee, delay in getting justice results in withdrawal of their and other stakeholders’ confidence in the justice delivery grid. To wield the faith of the public at large, the measures like Fast track courts, Lok Adalat, specific tribunals, Consumer forums, and promoting ADR had been initiated but it has failed in yielding better outcomes. Article 14 and Article 39A of the Indian Constitution aspire for equal opportunities in accessing justice. Further, Liberal interpretation of Article 21 in cases like Hussainara Khatton, M.H.Hoskothad propounded the access to justice as a fundamental right, impliedly. This has made an obligation toward the legislature to realize legal inclusivity. The Law Commission of India in its 114th report has suggested decentralization of judiciary service by establishing Gram Nyayalaya.
Gram Nyayalayas has been defined under the Gram Nyaylaya Act,2008 as a court established under section 3(1) of the latter Act. Gram Nyaylaya is a court established by the respective state government in consultation with that state High court. One or more Gram Nyaylaya can be established for a panchayat or a group of contiguous panchayats/gram panchayat at an intermediate level. Gram Nyaylaya is presided over by an officer called “Nyayadhikari” appointed by the state government, qualified for being appointed as Judicial Magistrate First class. Nyayadhikari and every employee working under Gram Nyaylaya are deemed to be public servants under section 21 of IPC. Gram Nyaylaya is in addition to the court or any judicial body established under any law in force. The underlying aim is to make possible simplified, flexible, cost-effective, and doorstep coverage of judicial service.
The salient feature of the Gram Nyaylayas Act,2008
Gram Nyayalya exercises the powers of both, civil and session courts and is empowered to adjudicate cases, complain like foregoing offense its abetment, attempt, theft, where property value does not exceed twenty thousand cases, trespass, any complaint under Cattle-trespass Act, 1871, Payment of Wages Act, 1936, Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and others. The central and state government can notify or omit any item to be taken up by Gram Nyaylaya. Gram Nyaylaya functions on the principle of natural justice. The proceeding of this court is in the official language of that respective state. There is a proviso of Plea bargaining, and conciliation. To extend legal aid, at least two advocates shall be attached to each Gram Nyayalaya. In civil disputes, there is a mechanism of special procedure wherein an application can be made to Gram Nyayalaya with relevant fees (generally, not exceeding hundred rupees). Also, the hearing will continue on day to day basis. The dispute needs to be solved within 6 (six) months filed. The judgment of trial is pronounced in open court and made available to parties within 15 days, free of cost. The decree or order of Gram Nyayalaya is executed as of Civil courts. Appeal for criminal cases can be made to the District Court within 30 days of the pronouncement of judgment provided the subject of the appeal shall not be contesting for acquittal on being convicted or a fine imposed not exceeding five hundred rupees. Appeal for civil cases judgment or order, not being an interlocutory order, be made to District court except contention is other than when the order is passed without the consent of parties, the value of the article in dispute exceeds 100 rupees, where the question of laws has arisen for subject matter or value of article exceed five thousand rupees. To ensure the litigation process won’t entangle an appeal made to the District Court needs to be solved within 6 months from the date of filing of the appeal.
Current status of Gram Nyaylayas
Today, the contemplated act has not been successfully enforced resulting in operational and establishment difficulties in setting up Gram Nyayalayas. In the National Federation of Societies for Law Justice v. Union of India, this issue was brought forward wherein Hon S.C sought the report from the State government and High courts on the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas. Under National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms Rs., 50 crores was provided for the Gram Nyayalayas Scheme and their implementation In 2019, only 204 Gram Nyaylaya was in function with 18 states have chosen not to notify any. The establishment of Taluka courts reduces alternatives like Gram Nyaylaya. As there is no separate cadre of Nyayadhikhari, it has been observed JMFC presides over these courts leading to compromise in the routine functioning of burden subordinate court. At Indore, Gram Nyaylaya was established within courts and cities defeating the purpose of its establishment. No active support is received by police and revenue officers in the functioning of these courts. Lack of awareness. No active cooperation from public prosecutors and lawyers. Even, Nyayadhikari reports ambiguity in jurisdiction due to the existence of alternative forums like labour courts, family courts, etc. Plea bargaining and conciliation are rarely used to resolve cases. The nonavailability of notaries and stamp vendors hinders the operation of these courts. It has built up itself as an additional bureaucratic exercise and not a dedicated and result-oriented disposal resolution device.
Steps to strengthen Gram Nyaylayas
To make this initiative successful there is a need for state governments to understand the effectiveness of justice reachability. A sufficient budgetary allocation needs to be allotted for infrastructural development and, separate staff. Gram Nyaylaya shall be established permanently. A separate cadre needs to be created for Gram Nyayadhikari or the initial posting of judges in these courts. The curriculum of judicial academies shall be updated. Apart from law, social work or a candidate with experience in pro bono service be given priority for appointment. The ambiguity on the jurisdiction, be amended by defining when duplicity occurs then the case will be dealt with under Gram Nyayalaya or a specific court. The legal fraternity should be motivated to plead in Gram Nyaylaya. District Legal Service Authority (DLSA), and busybodies should make wide publicity of this setup. Timely inspection, scientific analysis, and reports of working of Gram Nyayalays be made by an institution like NITI Ayog.
Gram Nyayalya Act,2008 has been passed by the legislature with a promise of judicial inclusivity but the lackadaisical and lack of active stance thereafter has resulted in transforming this initiative into a big impediment. A concept like Nyay Panchayat and disposal of justice in the village is not new to the subcontinent, codifying the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 in reviving this trend needs to be solidified. This framework has the potential in serving justice to marginalized and remote strata of society reducing the pendency of cases. Policymakers should review the roadblocks, and affirm solutions.
Author(s) Name: Bhadraka Nitish Kishor (Parul University, Vadodara)
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