Gram Nyayalay Bill: Taking justice to Aam Admi's doorstep

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Six decades of Indian democratic history tells us the story of political parties who have managed to win elections based on the promise of "Bijli-Sadak-Paani" (Electricity-Roads-Water). Successive governments promised the same "Bijli-Sadak-Paani" over and over again, Aam-Admi (Common man) went on voting for the same promises, election results repeatedly shown that 'Bijli-Sadak-Paani' philosophy has worked only until recently. The issue of 'Justice' to Aam Admi was never raised as an election issue. "Justice - Social, Economic, Political", enshrined in the preamble of our constitution, was not that easy for the common man to get. Madam (Indira) Gandhi promised the much awaited justice during the time of emergency. Her government only managed to insert a new article in the constitution, "Article 39(A): Equal justice and free legal aid" [42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976]. But, Madam Gandhi's government was careful enough to insert that clause in Part-IV of the constitution, i.e. in Directive Principles of state policy, so that if government cannot provide free legal aid, it cannot be challenged in the court of law. Unlike the fundamental rights, "Free legal aid" is not an enforcible right, but it's left to the policy makers to ensure as and 'when they feel necessary'.

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
  1. It is aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas on their doorstep.
  2. 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.
  3. The Bill provides for first class judicial magistrates dispensing justice.
  4. It establishes Gram Nyayalayas (Rural Courts) as the lowest tier of the judiciary for rural areas.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
If the Gram Nyayalaya idea is successfully implemented, it will be a revolutionary step for bringing justice to the doorstep of rural poor. It can fulfill the vision enshrined in our constitution - "to secure to all citizens the Justice - social, economic, political [Preamble]."

Read More:
  1. Journey of Gram Nyayalaya Bill - Loksatta page.
  2. News reports on Gram Nyayalaya bill: The Hindu, Times of India.
  3. About Loksatta, Jayaprakash Narayan - founder of Loksatta.

Ajmal Kasav is lucky, he was caught alive in India

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"I think there should not be a legal process and it’s useless in our country. Such terrorists (Kasav) should be hanged publically in front of Gateway of India. That's our demand", says Shiv Sena MP and party spokesman Sanjay Raut. I wonder what would have happened if the same statement was given by MNS's "Raj Thackeray and his band of goons"*. I feel, the young blood of Bombay [read Mumbai if you are Raj Thackeray or his fan] would have wrecked "Raj and his band of goon's"* neck! Law maker Sajay Raut should have at least remembered laws of his own land before he made such pedantic statement.

Ajmal Amir Kasav is extremely lucky to have been caught alive in a country where fundamental right of "life and liberty" is never denied to anyone. Many people, like Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut, who feel Kasav should be deprived of legal assistance, are right in some way. Simply because he was caught red handed and the crime he committed is conspicuous. His Pakistani nationality has nothing to do with this denial; terrorist is a terrorist no matter which country he belong to. There are other section of people who say, however heinous his crime may be, he should be given legal assistance at least for the sake upholding the law of the land and morally defeating those who preach hatred and violence. The legal experts say, the dilemma of whether to provide legal assistance to Kasav can be solved by declaring Kasav as "enemy alien" under the Article 22(3), so that he can no longer have the fundamental right of life and liberty.

I feel Kasav's case may have far reaching impact on domestic laws for preventive detention. Today, "exceptional" status of Kasav's case is unquestionable, "the trauma resulting from the terrorist attacks may be used as a justification for undue curtailment of individual rights and liberties. Instead of offering a considered response to the growth of terrorism, a country may resort to questionable methods such as permitting indefinite detention of terror suspects, the use of coercive interrogation techniques, and the denial of the right to fair trial....the most prominent the treatment of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay who were arrested by U.S. authorities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is alleged that they have detained hundreds of suspects for long periods, often without the filing of charges or access to independent judicial remedies. [CJI of India]"

So, the point here is, denying legal access to Kasav may just be a pretext to the misuse of preventive detention laws in the name of terrorism. "In some circles, it is argued that the judiciary places unnecessary curbs on the power of the investigating agencies to tackle terrorism. In India, those who subscribe to this view also demand changes in our criminal and evidence law — such as provisions for longer periods of preventive detention and confessions made before police officials to be made admissible in court. While the ultimate choice in this regard lies with the legislature, we must be careful not to trample upon constitutional principles such as ‘substantive due process.’ This guarantee was read into the conception of ‘personal liberty’ under Article 21 of the Constitution of India by our Supreme Court.** The necessary implication of this is that all governmental action, even in exceptional times, must meet the standards of reasonableness, non-arbitrariness, and non-discrimination [CJI of India, K.G.Balakrishnan]."

Thus, at least for the sake of completing legal procedures under our laws, Kasav should get legal access, so that the perpetrators can be brought to the book soon, so that the souls of many innocents and brave officers who lost their lives may rest in peace.

* Excerpts from widely circulated SMS: Where was Raj Thackeray and his band of goons when South Mumbai was burning? He should have been at the forefront of action trying to save Mumbai from the terrorists! How on earth did he allow north Indians and Indians from some other locations who are in the NSG to dare come and save Mumbai???!!!! Go get the terrorists Raj! Go get 'em!!].

** This idea of ‘substantive due process’ was incorporated through the decision in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597. In a way this was an answer to Madam Gandhi's misrule during infamous emergency. The law of preventive detention was widely misused. All the opponents of Madam (Indira) Gandhi, like Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were put behind the bars. Madam Gandhi even ensured that her opponent Maneka Gandhi was deprived of her passport. Maneka Gandhi challenged the "reasonableness" of denial of her passport. Supreme Court intervened and upheld Menaka Gandhi's appeal. Ultimately, government had to give passport to Maneka Gandhi. The apex court simply said, why only Maneka Gadhi, out of thousands of others who had applied for passport? That's where the question of "reasonableness" of government's action lies.

From 'Womb to Tomb', influence of terrorism is pervasive

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lot has been written and said about Mumbai massacre, media and online social networking community produced voluminous literature on every bit of that horrendous crime. "India has learned that not all terrorism stems from Pakistan: the country has faced attacks from Indian Islamists, Hindutva groups and ethnic-chauvinist organisations in the north-eastern States. Each form of hate has fed and legitimised the other. But this circle of hate has been driven, too, by organisations based in Pakistan, jehadist groups that have demonstrated that they, while being friends of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, are enemies of the people of Pakistan [Frontline]." Read more here. Wherever the terror originate, it has become conspicuous now that 'subconscious fear' has been created in the minds of ordinary people. At every stage of our life, from 'Womb to Tomb', terrorists/fundamentalists have made their presense felt. The fear of grave consequences of terrorism is now transforming into public anger fighting against government's apathy.

On 26th November, all political parties looked like they are united in the fight against terrorism, but "the message of unity that was sent out in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was lost in less than 24 hours". Probably opposition felt it's too risky to support ruling UPA government, in it's actions against terrorist, ahead of Delhi and Rajasthan assembly elections. The blame game began, not just in the speeches of politicians but Newspapers too carried advertises echoing slogans against government to woo voters in Delhi. This blame game incinerated public anger and just after our bravehearts fired final bullets in the battlefield, the angry citizen's voice was reverberated in every corner of India.

There is absolutely no doubt that despite intelligence inputs, government failed to act, but why do we always feel so proud to attack the politicians and blame the government for it's inaction?
"Why should we keep finding fault with only the politicians? Isn't there something wrong with us, the common populace? Aren't we to be equally blamed for the mess? How is it that we find scapegoats in politicians, security forces, and all others except ourselves? What is it that we have done to keep the country safe? Has our behaviour been conducive to the security forces' fight? Shouldn't we do something about it? Why should we keep on blaming the politicians, instead of just booting the opportunistic lot of them out of power by the power of ballot? Have all those who have been crowing about bad politicians, ever voted? Did they exercise their franchise? Isn't casting a vote the duty of the common man? If you have not liked a politician or political party, did you cast your vote against them? If you have found that no political party is worth your vote, did you take care to ensure that your vote is not cast to anybody by going to the polling booth and not voting for anybody? [Indian Current Affairs blog]."
Protesting and showing disapproval for government's action/inaction is our democratic right but just doing that doesn't help niether to the nation nor to ourself. Ask not whether the system is going to change, ask whether you can change. So what is that we can do? We just need to answer the above questions and act, otherwise we don't need to be vociferous.

Walkathon 2008: 'Walk' to express your solidarity towards disabled

Monday, December 1, 2008

In India, there are 16.4 lakh people who cannot speak, 12.6 lakh people who cannot hear, 61 lack people who cannot walk, over 22 lakh people who are not lucky enough to be mentally strong. We might not be able to eradicate disability of 2.2 crore people in India [Census 2001], but we can definitely show our solidarity towards "differently abled" people. We may take few more years to eradicate the feeling of discrimination against disabled, but we can definitely start taking initiatives to make that discrimination a distant memory.

 If you are not aware, "The World Disabled Day" is celebrated on 3rd December world over. Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled has planned to mark this wonderful day by organizing the "Great Walkathon." It's not a marathon, but it's an opportunity for all of us to walk for a noble cause. Walkathon is a platform to bring together people from different walks of life along with the differently abled and create a feeling of solidarity. The Great Walkathon intends to sensitize the public about the plight and difficulties of the disabled people and raise awareness find solutions to their prevalent problems.

Walkathon, when? where?
Date: 6th of December, 2008
Time: 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm
Venue: Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bangaluru

The walk is for about 3.5kms starting and ending at Shree Kanteerava Stadium. The event is followed by cultural activities by our very talented blind & disabled children and from other institutions. Organizers are expecting a gathering of around 25,000 enthusiastic participants in this year’s walkathon.

Coincidently, "this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making the commemoration of World Disabled Day all the more relevant. With 10% of the world’s population being differently abled, and a majority of this population living in the developing countries, creating awareness & sensitizing the public about this issue becomes very imperative. So let us come together to enforce the judiciary to make the State and Private infrastructure “Disabled Friendly”[Samarthana]."

If you think you "can be" a part of this event and express your solidarity for differently abled people, please do so. It's a precious opportunity for all of us.

If you would like to contribute towards the event, please do so. Contact Supraja for registration. You can reach her at 98452 09884. Registration details and other benifits are as follows.

A) Registration Fees(Will be used for supporting differently abled people): Rs.50/-, Rs.150/-, Rs.500/-, Rs.1000/-, Rs.5000/-, Rs.10000/-

B) Additional Benifits:
  • Participation Certificates 
  • Cap 
  • T-shirt 
  • Tax Exemption Receipt under Section 80G 
  • 100% Tax Exemption Receipt under Section 35AC which would be used for the "Vidya Prasad, Mid-day Meal" programme of Samarthanam. 
  • Mementoes 
  • Souvenir
C)Modes of payment: Kindly issue Cash/Cheque/DD in favour of  ""Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled", Bengaluru.
You Can transfer funds through online: Axis Bank A/C No- 227010100054029, ICICI Bank A/C No. - 005301026969, HDFC Bank A/C No.-01331110000020.

Walk in the Walkathon, express your solidarity, make a difference!

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.