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Justice Through Conciliation:Towards Fast Track Rural Courts, by Radhakrishna Rao Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 22 January 2007

Justice Through Conciliation

Towards Fast Track Rural Courts

By Radhakrishna Rao

The draft Bill on Nyaya Panchayat aimed at setting up fast track, people-oriented, easily accessible and highly affordable rural courts is under scanner, as a prelude to its introduction in Parliament. 

Describing the activities of Caste Panchayats and communal justice dispensation system as “illegal and unconstitutional”, the Union Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, has stated that Nyaya Panchayat which would bring justice to the rural populace through “conciliation and compromise” rather than through “arguments and adjudication.” It would go down well with the psyche of the Indian rural community because it is not imposed from “outside and above”.

Indeed, the acceptance of Nyaya Panchayat by the rural community is based on the fact that they existed from time immemorial and formed an integral part of the India’s ageless cultural ethos. As pointed out by Avadesh Kaushal, Chairperson of the Dehra Dun-based Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), Nyaya Panchayat which embodies the rich heritage and tradition of moral values running into thousands of years is ideally suited to meet the aspirations or rural India. 

Indeed, Kaushal drives homes the point that dispensation of justice by local self-government functionaries is not new to the Indian genius.  For there is a long and old tradition in India of the encouragement of dispute resolution outside the formal legal system. Disputes are quite obviously settled by the intervention of elders or assemblies of learned men and other such bodies. Nyaya Panchayats at the grass root level were there even before the advent of British administration, observes Kaushal.

Kaushal, who has made original and significant contribution to the draft Bill on Nyaya Panchayat is clear in his perception that Nyaya Panchayat alone could provide speedy, transparent and cost effective justice to the rural communities in India. Indeed, way back in 1970s, the well-documented Bhagwati Committee report had made a strong pitch for invigorating Nyaya Panchayat.  But the lack of political commitment implied poor support for the recommendations of Bhagwati Committee.

Prior to that, in 1954, a report on Village Panchayat had this to say on Nyaya Panchayat: “Sitting on the Panchayat, the elders of the villages used to solve disputes, arising between the members of the village community. These elders used to live in the villages themselves and by virtue of their residence well-acquainted with local conditions and knew the habits, customs and practices of the people.  Almost all individuals of the villages were known.  In view of all these factors, they easily came to know reasons behind the dispute that arose.”

On his part, Kaushal points out that down the centuries, the system of Nyaya Panchayat has been nourishing the legal administration at the grassroot level in a highly democratic fashion by involving the community at all stages of decision making.

Says Kaushal: “With the prevailing system of judicial administration becoming cumbersome, costly and complex, a large section of our population has started shunning the courts of law for seeking legal redressal to their grievances. As such, Nyaya Panchayat which can easily be accessed by an ordinary rural citizen in a highly affordable manner, has become the crying need of the hour”.

The current system of administration of justice has failed to achieve its objectives. Indeed, a common perception amongst the rural masses is that access to justice is both complex and difficult and as a result they avoid seeking redress to their grievances through courts.

The reason for this attitude appears to be physical inaccessibility, inordinate delay in dispensing justice, expenditure involved, technicalities and rigid rules of procedures of the present legal system. The biggest crisis facing the conventional judicial system is the burden of a massive backlog, which, in recent years, has assumed insurmountable proportions, making access to justice to the people at large far delayed and long drawn out process.

More than 30 million cases are known to be pending before various courts spread across the country. During one of his moments of soul searching, the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had expressed his concern over the functioning of the judicial system with the statement that “if the justice is delayed, we cannot really claim that is justice is being delivered.  We have to look ahead and see how we can clean up these roadblocks, how we can expedite justice without diluting justice, without reducing it in its value.  We have to see how our people can get justice.  It is not a question of time. It is also a question of affording it. We have taken steps and we have shown that it can be done cheaply.  It is also a question of physical access”.

Obviously, over the years the legal ambit in its entirety has widened to encompass innovations in the legal process, for instance, cyber crimes, intellectual property rights violations and bio-terrorism etc..The instance of legal remedy sought by a grand father being passed on to his grandson are aplenty. In distinct contrast to the conventional judicial delivery system, a rural court will be less formal, simple and well equipped to deliver speedy and inexpensive justice to the rural masses of the country.

Further, these rural courts, guided as they are by local tradition, culture and behavioural pattern of the village community have the potential to instill confidence in the people towards the administration of justice.  A envisaged, the make up and composition of the rural courts would be quite simple. It would staffed by a professional judge and supported by two other judges who would be selected/nominated by a panel of district and sessions judges.  It will hold sessions in the full view of the local community and try to resolves disputes through persuasion and conciliation.

It is not for nothing that not long ago, the Indian Law Commission had observed inter alia, that the rural courts could lead to a transparency in the justice delivery system, with a stress on promoting justice on the basis of equal opportunity and without any type of discrimination.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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