After discussing the Subordinate Courts in India, the National Legal Services Authority of India, and Lok Adalats, today we’d be discussing the Gram Nyayalayas in India. As stated in previous articles, the Subordinate Courts in India constitute the bedrock of the Indian Judiciary and ensure that everyone has access to justice and it’s not denied to anyone on the basis of his/her social or economic status. To further enhance the penetration of justice and provide justice to the citizens at their doorstep, the Gram Nyayalayas have been constituted in the country.
The need for Gram Nyaylayas
Article 39A of the Indian Constitution, included in the constitution as a Directive Principle of State Policy, directs the state that it shall promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity and shall also provide free legal aid to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities. So, there was a need to constitute Gram Nyayalayas to give effect to this directive principle and to ensure that justice is accessible to the poor and disadvantaged sections, especially in the rural areas.
The Law Commission of India also suggested the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas in its 114th Report. This would provide speedy and inexpensive justice to the common people. And based on these recommendations of the Law Commission, the Gram Nyayalayas Act of 2008 was framed.
The Government has also taken several steps to enhance the penetration of the judicial system in India and ultimately strengthen it. The steps taken by the government include simplifying the procedural laws, incorporating several alternative dispute resolution mechanisms based on arbitration, mediation, and conciliation such as the Lok Adalats, etc. Such steps have indeed been successful, but are surely not enough, and further steps need to be taken to further strengthen the judiciary in India.
‘Justice to the poor at their doorstep.’ Well, that seems impossible to fulfill, especially in the second most populated country in the world, with such a large rural population. However, fulfilling this dream is the principal aim of the institution of Gram Nyayalaya. And the Gram Nyayalayas have indeed been successful in providing speedy and affordable justice to the poor at their doorstep (wherever they’ve been constituted).
Establishment of the Gram Nyayalayas
The Gram Nyayalayas Act of 2008 has provided for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas in India.
However, the Gram Nyalayas have not been established around the country in substantial numbers. Under the act, more than 5000 Gram Nyayalas are expected to be set up around the country. And for their establishment, the Central Government would have to provide around 1400 crores by way of assistance to the concerned States and Union Territories. However, the results are not good or even satisfactory, as on February 2020 only 208 Gram Nyayalayas (numbers may vary) were functioning in the country, against an estimated target of setting up 2500 functioning Gram Nyayalayas by the 12th Five Year Plan.
The Gram Nyayalayas Act of 2008 provided that it is for the State Governments to establish Gram Nyayalas in consultation with the respective High Court. The majority of the States have set up regular courts at the Taluka level, but still, only 11 States have taken the required steps to notify the Gram Nyayalyas. Many of the States have issued the notification for their establishment, but still, the functioning Gram Nyalayas continue to be confined in states such as Maharashtra, Kerela, and Rajasthan.
The issues which are stated by the States for their failure in establishing the required, or even considerable number of Gram Nyayalas include non-availability of notaries and stamp vendors, non-enthusiasm of the Bar, the reluctance of police officers to invoke the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalas.
After observing these problems which are coming in the way of setting up Gram Nyayalayas, this issue was discussed in the Conference of Chief Justices of High Courts and Chief Ministers of the States in 2013. They finally came to the conclusion that the State Government and the respective High Court should decide on the question of the establishment of Gram Nyalayas while taking into account their feasibility and local problems. And after the conference, the focus has been shifted towards setting up Gram Nyalayas in the Talukas where regular courts have not been set up.
Well, given the lukewarm response of the states and the concerned authorities in implementing the provisions of the Act and achieving the targets therein, it appears that the dream of providing justice to the poor at their doorstep would remain a dream until some drastic step is taken towards realizing it!
The Salient Features
The Gram Nyayalaya should be established at an intermediate level for every Panchayat. Or, the Gram Nyayalaya could also be established at an intermediate level for a group of contiguous Panchayats. Or, it could be established in the state where there is no Panchayat at an intermediate level, for a group of contiguous Panchayats.
The Gram Nyayalaya should be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat. The principal function of the Gram Nyayalaya should be to go to the village and settle or dispose of the cases there.
The Gram Nyayalaya should have the powers of both Civil and Criminal courts.
The Gram Nyaylayaya should be a court of Judicial Magistrate. The Nyayalaya’s presiding officer called Nyayadhikari should be appointed by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Court.
The Nyayadhikaris should be legal officers and their salary and powers should be the same as that of the First Class Magistrates working under High Courts.
Powers and Functions
The Gram Nyayalaya shall be a mobile court and shall exercise the powers of both criminal and civil courts.
Gram Nyayalayas shall have the power to try criminal cases, civil suits, claims, or disputes which are mentioned in the First and Second Schedule of the act.
Gram Nyayalayas shall also exercise powers of a Civil Court, and should also follow the special procedures provided in the Gram Nyayalayas Act of 2008.
The judgment passed by a Gram Nyayalaya is deemed as a decree. Moreover, the Gram Nyayalaya could also follow the summary procedure to prevent delay in its execution.
The appeal in criminal cases 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.
The appeal in civil cases 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 such appeal.
As stated earlier, the Gram Nyayalayas have the power to try criminal cases, civil suits, claims, or disputes which are mentioned in the first and second schedules of the Gram Nyayalayas Act of 2008, the Central and the State Governments have the powers to amend these schedules as per their respective legislative competence.
The conciliators are to be appointed in the Gram Nyayalayas in order to settle the disputes as far as possible through conciliation.
Further, the Gram Nyayalayas should not be bound by the rules of evidence provided in the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. Rather, the Gram Nyayalayas should prefer the principles of natural justice and should be subject to rules made by the High Court while settling the disputes.
The appeals against the criminal cases should lie to the sessions court. And to hasten the process, these cases should be heard and disposed of within six months.
A person who is accused of any offense shall have the right to file for plea bargaining.
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