What are Gram Nyayalayas?
Gram Nyayalayas are mobile village courts in India established under Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 for speedy and easy access to the justice system in the rural areas of India. They are aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas at their doorsteps. The Act came into force on October 2, 2009, i.e. the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
In terms of Section 3(1) of the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008, it is for the State Governments to establish Gram Nyayalayas in consultation with the respective High Courts. More than 5000 Gram Nyayalayas are expected to be set up under the Act.
Powers of Gram Nyayalayas
Gram Nyayalaya is a mobile court and exercises the powers of both Criminal and Civil Courts; i.e., the seat of the Gram Nyayalaya will be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat, but they will go to villages, work there and dispose of the cases.
It can try criminal cases, civil suits, claims or disputes which are specified in the First Schedule and the Second Schedule to the Gram Nyayalaya Act and the scope of these cases can be amended by the Central as well as the State Governments, as per their respective legislative competence;
The Gram Nyayalaya are supposed to try to settle the disputes as far as possible by bringing about conciliation between the parties and for this purpose, it can make use of the appointed conciliators. The judgment and order passed by the Gram Nyayalaya are deemed to be a decree and to avoid delay in its execution, the Gram Nyayalaya can follow summary procedure for its execution.
The Gram Nyayalaya will not be bound by the rules of evidence provided in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 but shall be guided by the principles of natural justice and subject to any rule made by the High Court;
Presiding Officer and Appointments
Gram Nyayalaya are courts of Judicial Magistrate of the first class and its presiding officer (Nyayadhikari) is appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High Court of the State concerned; The Nyayadhikaris who will preside over these Gram Nyayalayas are strictly judicial officers and will be drawing the same salary and deriving the same powers as First Class Magistrates working under High Courts.
- Appeal in criminal cases shall lie to the Court of Session, which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of such appeal.
- Appeal in civil cases shall lie to the District Court, which shall be heard and disposed of within a period of six months from the date of filing of the appeal.
Issues in Functioning
- The reluctance of police officials and other State functionaries to invoke the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas,
- Lukewarm response of the Bar,
- Non-availability of notaries and Stamp vendors,
- Problem of concurrent jurisdiction of regular courts etc.
- A majority of States have now set up regular courts at Taluk level, thus reducing the demand for gram nayayalayas.
- No appeal shall lie from any judgment or order passed by the Gram Nyayalaya
(a) with the consent of the parties;
(b) where the amount or value of the subject-matter of a suit, claim or dispute does not exceed Rs 1,000;
(c) except on a question of law, where the amount or value of the subject-matter of such suit, claim or dispute does not exceed Rs 5,000.
- Section 33 (7) provides that the decision of the court of session shall be final and no appeal or revision shall lie from the decision of the court of session.
- Similarly, Section 34 (6) provides that the decision of the district court shall be final and no appeal or revision shall lie from such decision.
- Section 33 and 34: 30 days for appeal, this is another example of the Act compromising on proper procedure and is bound to create difficulties for parties involved in litigation at the level of Gram Nyayalayas
- The proximity of these courts may lead to more litigation among family members or among neighbors too.
- Flexibility about procedures and evidence
- Proceedings in criminal cases have been made into a summary one.
The setting up of Gram Nyayalayas is considered as an important measure to reduce arrears and is a part of the judicial reforms. It is estimated that Gram Nyayalayas can reduce around 50% of the pendency of cases in subordinate courts and can take care of the new litigations which will be disposed within six months.