What are Gram Nyayalayas?

Gram Nyayalayas are village courts for speedy and easy access to the justice system in the rural areas of India.

When was it established?

The Gram Nyayalayas were established following the recommendation of 114th report of the Law Commission of India for providing speedy, substantial and inexpensive justice to the common man. Hence Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 was passed by the Parliament of India.

Structure of Gram Nyayalayas

Each Gram Nyayalaya is a court of Judicial Magistrate of the first class.

Its Nyayadhikari (presiding officer) is appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High Court.

The Gram Nyayalaya shall be established for every Panchayat at the intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at the intermediate level in a district.

The seat of the Gram Nyayalaya will be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat; they will go to villages, work there and dispose of the cases.

Jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas

Gram Nyayalayas have jurisdiction over an area specified by a notification by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Court.

Nyayadhikari can hold mobile courts and conduct proceedings in villages.

Gram Nyayalayas have both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the offences.

  • They can try criminal offences specified in the First Schedule and civil suits specified in Second Schedule to the Act.
  • The Central as well as the State Governments have been given the power to amend the First Schedule and the Second Schedule of the Act.
  • The pecuniary jurisdiction of the Nyayalayas is fixed by the respective High Courts.

High Courts can transfer eligible cases from the District court to the Gram Nyayalayas.

The Court shall try to settle disputes via conciliation between the parties and the court can make use of the conciliators to be appointed for this purpose.

Why are Gram Nyayalayas important?

  • Lack of infrastructure like buildings, office spaces and related equipment
  • Lack of man-power resources, notaries, stamp vendors etc. at sub-district level
  • Inadequate Central assistance
  • Lack of awareness among lawyers, police officials
  • Non-cooperation of enforcement agencies
  • The reluctance of state functionaries to invoke the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas
  • Setting up of legal services institutions at Taluk level reducing the dependency on Gram Nyayalayas

What are the critisims associated with the Gram Nyayalayas?

  • The number of disputes settled by Gram Nyayalayas are negligible and most are referred to District forums by appeal. Hence, they are not effective in reducing the burden of District Courts.
  • Absence of a regular cadre of Gram Nyayadhikari
  • Ambiguities regarding jurisdiction due to the parallel existence of alternate dispute mechanisms, tribunals, adalats etc.
  • Some Gram Nyayalayas are located at cities and towns which doesn’t provide any utility to villagers.
  • Inadequate awareness amongst various stakeholders

Some suggestions by experts to improve the functioning of Gram nyayalayas

  • Establishing a regular cadre of Gram Nyayadhikaris
  • Conducting procedures in local language and with simpler procedures
  • Creating awareness amongst stakeholders via seminars, press releases etc.
  • Establishing permanent Gram Nyayalayas at the intermediate level in a suitable location proving easy access to the common people
  • Clearly specifying the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas and re-defining it to remove any ambiguities
  • Providing building, staff etc. for Gram Nyayalayas and provisioning them in the state budget

Conclusion

The Preamble to the Gram Nyayalayas Act envisions access to justice to the citizens at their doorstep and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen.

Despite the many challenges and shortcomings of the existing framework of the Village Courts in India, they have a positive role in providing access to justice to the poor and reaching out to marginalized sections of the society.

It has the potential to reduce the pendency of cases at higher levels. However, to achieve the stated objectives, some efforts must be made to revamp the organizational and jurisdictional aspects of Gram Nyayalayas.

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