Gram Nyayalaya and its Working
Justice is a core value of any judicial system. The preamble provides for Justice (social, economic, and political). It has been held that as per the constitutional guarantee, a citizen of modest means also has a right of access to courts for redressal of their grievances. But the question here is what happens when the existing justice system is not in line with the expectations? The only option available in this case is restructuring. As per the 2011 census report, rural India is composed of 6,38,000 villages in which a total of 72.2% population lives.
The people come across several complexities when they try to approach institutions of justice. These may include procedural technicalities, delay, high cost, etc. Researchers found that the lower tier is characterized by poor court infrastructure, heavily backlogged dockets, excessive continuances, an insufficient quantity of judges, and inadequate legal training. Due to this proposition, India has rediscovered its dispute resolution mechanisms. Gram Nyayalaya is one such measure with which disputes can be resolved at the grass-root level.
NEED OF GRAM NYAYALAYA
The need for Gram Nyayalaya felt due to ever-increasing cases in lower courts. The difficulties faced by the rural poor in terms of distance, time, cost, technicalities made access to justice a myth. Due to these crises, people will limit their reach to access justice. Only a few prefer to appeal and even fewer go for a second appeal. While taking all these conditions into consideration, one can imagine the number of cases going to High Courts and the Supreme Court. Therefore, in order to achieve the constitutional guarantee of “free legal aid” and “access to justice”, the government came up with the idea of Gram Nyayalayas.
HISTORY OF GRAM NYAYALAYA
The conception of Gram Nyayalaya was first recommended in the 114th law commission of India Report. The objective of introducing Gram Nyayalaya was two-folded: First, addressing the pendency of cases in courts, and second, participatory form of justice. The commission recommended certain matters (both civil and criminal) on which the Nyayalaya can exercise jurisdiction. The procedural complexities were also taken into consideration. This is evident due to the fact that the commission excluded the applicability of the Code of Civil Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act in civil matters. But in criminal cases, the Code of Criminal Procedure will be applicable (summary procedure).
The commission was of the view that the participatory model of justice will help in the restoration of credibility, ensure respectability and impart a sense of informality of disputes. These recommendations were later accepted and the Gram Nyayalaya Act came into force. Therefore, in order to decipher these circumstances, Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 came into existence. It is an Act to provide for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas at the grass-root level for the purposes of providing access to justice to the citizens at their doorsteps and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of social, economic or other disabilities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
GRAM NYAYALAYA ACT, 2008
Gram Nyayalayas aimed to dispense speedy justice to people. It is more convenient and economical as it trims down the problems that are generally faced by the people at large in the justice system. The effect of this Act is four folded:
The power to establish a Gram Nyayalaya under this Act is conferred to the State Government, after consultation with the High Court. One or more Gram Nyayalayas may be established for every Panchayat at the intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at an intermediate level in a district or where there is no Panchayat at an intermediate level in any State, for a group of contiguous Gram Panchayats.
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“Nyayadhikari” means the presiding officer of a Gram Nyayalaya. The State government, in consultation with the High Court, shall appoint a Nyayadhikari who shall be eligible to be qualified as a Judicial Magistrate First Class.
The presiding officer shall periodically visit the villages falling under his jurisdiction and conduct trial or proceedings at any place which he considers is in close proximity to the place where the parties ordinarily reside or where the whole or part of the cause of action had arisen and resolve disputes via conciliation or plea bargaining.
Gram Nyayalayas will have jurisdiction in both civil as well as criminal matters. The Act mandates the Nyayalaya to follow principles of natural justice. It also provides a list on which the Nyayadhikari may exercise jurisdiction.
- OFFENCES UNDER THE INDIAN PENAL CODE (45 OF 1860)
- offences not punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years;
- theft, under section 379, section 380 or section 381 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), where the value of the property stolen does not exceed rupees twenty thousand;
- receiving or retaining stolen property, under section 411 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), where the value of the property does not exceed rupees twenty thousand;
- assisting in the concealment or disposal of stolen property, under section 414 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), where the value of such property does not exceed rupees twenty thousand;
- offences under sections 454 and 456 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860);
- insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, under section 504, and criminal intimidation, punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both, under section 506 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860);
- abetment of any of the foregoing offences;
- an attempt to commit any of the foregoing offences, when such an attempt is an offence.
- OFFENCES AND RELIEF UNDER THE OTHER CENTRAL ACTS
- any offence constituted by an act in respect of which a complaint may be made under section 20 of the Cattle-trespass Act, 1871(1 of 1871);
- the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (4 of 1936);
- the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 (11 of 1948);
- the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 (22 of 1955);
- order for maintenance of wives, children, and parents under Chapter IX of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974);
- the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (19 of 1976);
- the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 (25 of 1976);
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (43 of 2005).
- SUITS OF A CIVIL NATURE WITHIN THE JURISDICTION OF GRAM NYAYALAYAS
- Civil Disputes:
- right to purchase of property;
- use of common pasture;
- regulation and timing of taking water from an irrigation channel.
- Property Disputes:
- village and farmhouses (Possession);
- water channels;
- right to draw water from a well or tube well.
- Other Disputes:
- claims under the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (4 of 1936);
- claims under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 (11 of 1948);
- money suits either arising from trade transaction or money lending;
- disputes arising out of the partnership in the cultivation of land;
- disputes as to the use of forest produce by inhabitants of Gram Panchayats.
Finality to disputes
The Act, with respect to criminal cases, restrains a person from filing an appeal if:
- an accused person has pleaded guilty and has been convicted on such plea;
- the Gram Nyayalaya has passed only a sentence of fine not exceeding Rs 1000/-
- in cases other than that mentioned above, the appeal shall lie before the Court of Session that shall be final and no appeal or revision shall lie from the decision of the Court of Session.
With respect to a civil matter, no appeal shall lie if:
- with the consent of the parties;
- where the amount or value of the subject matter of a suit, claim or dispute does not exceed rupees one thousand;
- except on a question of law, where the amount or value of the subject matter of such suit, claim or dispute does not exceed rupees five thousand.
- in cases other than that mentioned above, the appeal shall lie before the District Court that shall be final and no appeal or revision shall lie from the decision of the District Court.
WORKING OF GRAM NYAYALAYA IN INDIA
There is no denying the facts that the recommendations of the 114th Report of the Law Commission on Gram Nyayalayas (1986) have substantially contributed towards the enactment of the Gram Nyayalayas Act of 2008. The Act was enacted to provide meaningful ‘Access to Justice’ to the rural populations as a Statutory Right.
There were several studies conducted with regard to the functionality of this platform. Evaluation Study of the Scheme of Establishing and Operationalizing Gram Nyayalayas, January 2018, sponsored by the Ministry of Law & Justice and conducted by the National Productivity Council, shows that for the period 2009-10 to 2017-18, a mere 320 Gram Nyayalayas have been notified by various State Governments and of that only 204 are operational.
Source: Evaluation Study of the Scheme of Establishing and Operationalizing Gram Nyayalayas, January 2018.
These statistics not only show the non fulfilment of the obligations by the government rather it also describes how the statutory rights of the people were violated. While ascertaining this, it is a matter of concern that what happens when the very purpose of the Act is only defeated? Whether “access to justice” was justified by the government? The answer to this question is NO.
It is noteworthy to understand that access to justice is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution. The non-constitution of required Gram Nyayalayas by the states defeats the preamble of the Act.
Article 39A provides for ‘Equal justice and free legal aid’ to all and states,
“The State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.”
Though Article 39A falls under Part IV which is not enforceable there are various judgements that state that Part VI, is fundamental in the governance of the country and the provisions of Part III must be interpreted harmoniously with these principles. Rights conferred under Part III are fundamental, the directives under Part IV are fundamental in the governance of the country. They are complementary and supplementary to each other. The fundamental rights and the Directive Principles together constitute the core commitment to social revolution, and together they are the conscience of the constitution. To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the constitution.
Another view that may very well be contended is that Section 3 of the Act does not bind the State Governments as it uses “may” in the provision. But in Dilip Kumar Basu v State of West Bengal, the Hon’ble Court negatived the contention of the States that under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, setting up of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), was optional for the State Government because Section 21 of that Act, provided that the State Government “may” constitute SHRCs. The Hon’ble Court held that such a reading would defeat the very ‘object’ of the Act and reading “may” as “shall” directed all states to constitute SHRCs.
Similarly, State Governments under Section 3 of the Gram Nyayalayas Act, have been defeating the object of the Act, as Section 3 provides that State Governments “may” constitute Gram Nyayalayas and thereby violating the fundamental right of citizens to ‘access to justice with all its facets by not constituting required Gram Nyayalayas.
We have discussed the objectives of the Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008 to a certain extent. The aim is to provide speedy, inexpensive justice to the people. The above statistics and propositions clearly describe the absence of legislative as well as executive activism. It is high time for us to understand that this inability of the state organs may affect public policy at large. The purpose of the entire justice system will be defeated if people will not have faith in it.
- Most of the Gram Nyayalayas are working near regular courts in the cities which deprive poor rural people of its access. Therefore, Gram Nyayalayas should be established in the village so as to have a better reach.
- Government should fulfil its obligation under Section 5 and shall establish Gram Nyayalayas to improve the justice dispensation system.
- To formulate policies and organise various campaigns in order to promote Gram Nyayalayas (to spread awareness) and also, to encourage people for conciliation and plea bargaining as provided in the Act.
 Narendra and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors. (2017) 9 SCC 426
 In Re, Santram AIR 1960 SC 932, Kharak Singh v. State of U.P AIR 1963 SC 1295 (life does not denote mere animal existence).
 <http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/rural.aspx> (Last visited on 18th June 2021)
 <http://www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in/courtnews/2011_issue_1.pdf> (Last visited on 18th June 2021)
 Jayanth K. Krishnan, Lawyering for a Cause and Experiences from Abroad, 94 CauI. L. REV. 575 (2006)
 Vishnu Konoorayar.K, Old Wine in New Bottle: Access to Justice in India and Effectiveness of Gram Nyayalayas. <file:///C:/Users/Hp/Downloads/SSRN-id2534901.pdf> (Last visited on 18th June 2021)
 114th Law Commission if India Report.(August 1986)
 While examining the lists provided, it can be construed that the jurisdiction was expansive than that conferred to Nyaya Panchayats. It was due to the presence of judicial members in the panel of judges.
 Code of Civil Procedure, 1908
 Indian Evidence Act, 1872
 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 19
 Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008, Statement of Reasons
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 3
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 2(e)
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 5
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 6
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 9
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 26
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 20
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 25
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, The First Schedule
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, The Second Schedule
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 33
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 34
 Evaluation Study of the Scheme of Establishing and Operationalizing Gram Nyayalayas, January 2018, sponsored by the Ministry of Law & Justice and conducted by the National Productivity Council.
 The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 14
 The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 21
 Anita Kushwaha v. Pushap Sadan (2016) 8 SCC 509, The Hon’ble Court held that (1) accessibility to adjudicatory mechanism in terms of distance, (2) speedy justice, and (3) affordable justice, are essential facets of ‘Access to Justice’
 The Constitution of India, 1950
 Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, 1965 AIR 845
 C.B. Boarding and Lodging v. State of Mysore, 1970 AIR 2042
 Minerva Mills Ltd v. Union of India, 1980 AIR 1789
 Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, Section 3
 2015 8 SCC 744