A solid framework of justice for rural India is one of the most fundamental instrument essential to achieve socio-economic freedom. It took over sixty years for the parliament to start contemplating about speedy and timely justice to the rural poor. Parliament (only Rajya Sabha as of now) has unanimously passed Gram Nyayalaya Bill 2008 which is aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas on their doorstep. The story is not over yet, it's only after Lok Sabha passes the bill and President approves, the bill will become law. One can only hope that the process will get over soon, at least before Dr.Manmohan Singh's government completes it's term.
The journey leading to the passage of bill wasn't that easy. It wsa in August 1997, Lokasatta movement raised voices for fundamental democratic reforms. The key goals of the movement included "establishment of local courts for speedy, accessible and affordable justice [Loksatta]". A brief history of it's journey can be found here. It's very interesting to note that the Lokasatta movement was started by Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan, not the famous freedom fighter-politician Jayaprakash Narayan but a former IAS officer who quit his prestigious Administrative post to fight for social justice and fundamental democratic reforms.
Highlights of Gram Nyayalaya Bill
- It is aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas on their doorstep.
- For Gram Nyayalayas, Centre will bear the full cost on capital account. The cost of litigation would be borne by the state and not by the litigant.
- The Bill provides for first class judicial magistrates dispensing justice.
- It establishes Gram Nyayalayas (Rural Courts) as the lowest tier of the judiciary for rural areas.
- These courts will sit at the district headquarters and in taluks. They will go in a bus or jeep to the village, work there and dispose of the cases.
- Each Gram Nyayalaya shall be headed by a Nyayadhikari, who shall have the qualifications of a first class magistrate and be from a cadre created by the Governor and the High Court.
- Nyayadhikaris “are strictly judicial officers. They will be drawing the same salary, deriving the same powers as the first class magistrates working under the High Courts.”
- Gram Nyayalayas shall try those cases whose maximum punishment is a year’s imprisonment, is only a fine, or in which offense is compoundable. They shall also settle civil suits dealing with land, water, etc.
- In civil disputes, Gram Nyayalayas shall not be bound by the procedure in Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, or the rules of evidence in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. In criminal cases, the court shall follow procedures for summary trials.
- Appeals in civil and criminal cases shall be heard by the senior civil judge and the assistant sessions judge, respectively. Further appeals are not permitted.