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.

1 comment:

Post a Comment

 

Creative Commons License
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.