Gram Nyayalayas are village courts for speedy and easy access to the justice system in the rural areas of India.
The establishment of Gram Nyayalayas in India can be traced to the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 passed by the Parliament of India.
Even though the target was to set up 5000 village courts in India, only about 200 Gram Nyayalayas are functional now.
Also read: Judicial infrastructure in India
Why Gram Nyayalayas are in news now?
A writ petition was filed in 2019 by the National Federation of Societies for Fast Justice for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas as provided by the 2008 Act. The Supreme Court of India noted that while some states are yet to issue notifications, the Gram Nyayalayas were not operational in most of the states which have issued notifications.
Supreme Court ordered the states to issue notification for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas.
Also read: History of Indian Judiciary
The Need for Gram Nyayalayas
The Constitution of India under Article 39-A mandates for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of society.
The Law Commission of India in its 114th report recommended the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas for providing speedy, substantial and inexpensive justice to the common man.
Subsequently, the Parliament of India passed the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 providing for its establishment.
Salient features of the Gram Nyayalayas Act
The Gram Nyayalayas Act defines its establishment, jurisdiction, and procedure in civil and criminal cases.
Each Gram Nyayalaya is a court of Judicial Magistrate of the first class.
Its presiding officer (Nyayadhikari) is appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High Court.
The Gram Nyayalaya shall be established for every Panchayat at the intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at the intermediate level in a district.
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.
Gram Nyayalayas have jurisdiction over an area specified by a notification by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Court.
Nyayadhikari can hold mobile courts and conduct proceedings in villages.
Gram Nyayalayas have both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the offences.
- They can try criminal offences specified in the First Schedule and civil suits specified in Second Schedule to the Act.
- The Central as well as the State Governments have been given the power to amend the First Schedule and the Second Schedule of the Act.
- The pecuniary jurisdiction of the Nyayalayas is fixed by the respective High Courts.
High Courts can transfer eligible cases from the District court to the Gram Nyayalayas.
The Court shall try to settle disputes via conciliation between the parties and the court can make use of the conciliators to be appointed for this purpose.
Gram Nyayalayas shall follow a summary procedure in the criminal trial. Summary proceedings are faster and simpler than ordinary steps in a suit. They are normally deployed for cases involving a smaller number of definite issues that require prompt action.
The judgments and orders passed by Gram Nyayalayas are deemed to be a decree.
Gram Nyayalayas are 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.
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 the appeal.
A person accused of an offence may file an application for plea bargaining.
Also read: Women in Judiciary
Need for Gram Nyayalayas
Access to justice for the poor and marginalized remains a perennial problem in India.
Various measures such as simplifying procedural laws, establishing alternate dispute redressal mechanisms, setting up fast track courts and providing free legal aid to the poor are undertaken in this regard.
Despite these measures, access to justice and faster, inexpensive settlement of disputes at the grass-roots level are yet to materialize.
Gram Nyayalayas can greatly help in
- devolving justice delivery to the fourth tier
- ensuring equal access to justice
- reducing the burden of district courts
- delivering speedier justice
- reducing the costs associated with litigation for the common man
- reducing dependency on extra-constitutional forums of justice
Why Gram Nyayalayas are not operational?
- Lack of infrastructure like buildings, office spaces and related equipment
- Lack of man-power resources, notaries, stamp vendors etc. at sub-district level
- Inadequate Central assistance
- Lack of awareness among lawyers, police officials
- Non-cooperation of enforcement agencies
- The reluctance of state functionaries to invoke the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas
- Setting up of legal services institutions at Taluk level reducing the dependency on Gram Nyayalayas
Criticisms on Gram Nyayalayas
- The number of disputes settled by Gram Nyayalayas are negligible and most are referred to District forums by appeal. Hence, they are not effective in reducing the burden of District Courts.
- Absence of a regular cadre of Gram Nyayadhikari
- Ambiguities regarding jurisdiction due to the parallel existence of alternate dispute mechanisms, tribunals, adalats etc.
- Some Gram Nyayalayas are located at cities and towns which doesn’t provide any utility to villagers.
- Inadequate awareness amongst various stakeholders
How to improve the functioning of Gram Nyayalayas?
- Establishing a regular cadre of Gram Nyayadhikaris
- Conducting procedures in local language and with simpler procedures
- Creating awareness amongst stakeholders via seminars, press releases etc.
- Establishing permanent Gram Nyayalayas at the intermediate level in a suitable location proving easy access to the common people
- Clearly specifying the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas and re-defining it to remove any ambiguities
- Providing building, staff etc. for Gram Nyayalayas and provisioning them in the state budget
The Preamble to the Gram Nyayalayas Act envisions access to justice to the citizens at their doorstep and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen.
Despite the many challenges and shortcomings of the existing framework of the Village Courts in India, they have a positive role in providing access to justice to the poor and reaching out to marginalized sections of the society.
It has the potential to reduce the pendency of cases at higher levels. However, to achieve the stated objectives, efforts must be made to revamp the organizational and jurisdictional aspects of Gram Nyayalayas.
UPSC Civil Services Examination Question on Gram Nyayalayas
Qn (2016): With reference to the ‘Gram Nyayalaya Act’, which of the following statements is/are correct?
- As per the Act, Gram Nyayalayas can hear only civil cases and not criminal cases.
- The Act allows local social activists as mediators/reconciliators.
Select the correct answer using the code given below.
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Correct Answer: (b) 2 only
Learning Zone: The Gram Nyayalya Act, which was enacted by Parliament in 2008 and came into effect in October 2009, mandates setting up of village courts. The Act aims at making justice easily accessible to the rural population and dealing with the backlog of cases. The Act also makes the judicial process participatory and decentralised because it allows appointment of local social activists and lawyers as mediators/reconciliators. To make the judiciary responsive to the local socio-economic situation, it prescribes representation from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. There is also a provision of setting up mobile courts at the panchayat level. As per the Act, Gram Nyayalayas can hear both criminal and civil cases and appeals in civil cases will have to be disposed of in six months.
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