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Mainstream, VOL LV No 49 New Delhi November 25, 2017

A Blow to Rural Justice Mechanism

Proposal for Deletion of Nyaya Panchayats in Uttar Pradesh

Sunday 26 November 2017

by Mahi Pal

Nyaya Panchayats (NPs) have been an integral part of the rural local government system of Uttar Pradesh. The NPs came into being in the State as per the UP Village Panchayat Act, 1920. Their jurisdiction was limited to civil claims of simple nature not beyond Rs 25 and criminal cases of simple hurt, assault, petty theft, mischief, insult and other ordinary cases. As per the UP Panchayati Raj Act, 1947, the NPs have been empowered to impose fine to the extent of Rs 250. The NPs have been included in chapter 6 of the UP Panchayati Raj Act, 1947. It is interesting to note that the NPs were constituted and working in the State since independence till 1977. These were not only instrumental in solving the petty issues regarding stolen or misappropriated property, cattle trespass cases, gambling etc. but also helpful in bringing peace and harmony in the village society. These institutions are not in existence after 1977. There is a great vacuum in the rural areas for about four decades.

Suddenly, the State Government woke up and decided to delete the provisions of chapter 6 of the UP Panchayati Raj Act, 1947 assuming that these institutions are useless. Why? Let us see the trajectory of such an Act on the part of the State Government. In 2008, Ram Narayan Gupta submitted a Public Litigation in the name of the Principal Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Govern-ment of UP requesting that the NPs should be established to deliver simple and economical justice to the village community in the State. The Court asked for the point of view of the State Government on this. It is interesting to note the reasons the State Government gave to the Court; these were: (i) there is no provision contained in the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution according to which the three-tier system of Panchayati Raj is established in the State; (ii) in the changing circumstances, the NPs have became irrelevant and the Sarpanches and Panches, instead of promoting justice, even escalated the disputes; (iii) the system is not congenial in local setting and impractical and creates problems for the Gram Panchayats.

Based on the oath given by the State Government in the High Court, the Cabinet has passed the proposal to delete the provisions of the NPs from the UP Panchayati Raj Act and subsequently on July 13, 2017, the proposal was passed by the Vidhan Sabha with voice vote without any discussion. Strange. Then the proposal was sent to the Vidhan Parishad for debate. Now the proposal is with the Select Committee of the Vidhan Parishad.

Regarding the points submitted by the State Government to the Court and keeping the local conditions in view, these require scrutiny. First, the UP Panchayati Raj Act, 1947 was amended in conformity with the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992 (Central Act) in the UP Assembly on April 22, 2004 according to chapter 6 of the UP Panchayati Raj Act. It means, there was a need for retaining the provisions of the NPs in the Act. Though the provisions of the NPs are not contained in the Central Act, it does not mean that the State Government should not make these institutions operational at its level. Retaining provisions of the UP Panchayati Raj Act 1947 and making the NPs operational can also be commented upon from another point of view. That is, the Central Act’s Article 243G says that the State by law, should endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and prepare plans for economic development and social justice on the 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, which includes subjects ranging from agriculture to maintenance of community assets. It is an enabling provision for the State Government to devolve as much power as possible so that there would be effective governance at the local level. Now let us see UP’s position in this regard based on the powers and authority devolved to the Panchayats as revealed by the Devolution Report 2015-16 conducted by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India. It revealed that the devolution of triple Fs (Functions, Finance and Functionaries) was reached upto 36 per cent even after more than two decades of implementation of the Central Act. So, the State has not made any conscious effort in empowering the Panchayats. And the State Government‘s argument that since the NPs are not part of the 73rd Amendment, they have proposed to scrap them from the book of statute is not tenable. The governments at the Centre and the States emphasise people’s participation in decentralised governance. How is this emphasis right if the State Government, instead of activating and strengthening the NPs, decide to scrap them? This is an example of doublespeak.

Secondly, on the stand of the State Govern-ment that the NPs have became irrelevant and the Sarpanches and Panches, instead of promoting justice, even escalated the disputes is not correct. In fact, in this way the government is passing the buck to the Sarpanches and Panches. These would be elected from the members of the Gram Panchayats. They have not been imparted training comprehensively. Whatever training is imparted that is just for namesake. In Uttar Pradesh, there is a State Institute of Rural Development, which also has regional and district centres. This author has personal experience of the level of imparting training by these regional centres. Even in some places, Principals of these centre are also having additional charge of Block Development Officers. One can read between the lines the purpose of having additional charge of the Blocks. Not only this, out of the total Gram Panchayats in the State as many as 18,000 are not having their own building. This says enough about the plight of the Panchayats. The point is that in such circums-tances, how can the State Government expect a miracle from these poorly trained Panches and Sarpanches?

Thirdly, the system is not congenial in the local setting and impractical and creates problems for the Gram Panchayats is not correct; this is evident from the facts where the NPs have been working.

Moreover, the NPs in the form of Gram Kachheries (GKs) in Bihar have been functioning and discharging their duties effectively. Dr Chandra Shakher Pran’s Note on “naya sanstha key raup mey Panchayats: Etihas avam vartmaan Esthati, Uttar Pradesh key sandharb mey” (Panchayats in the form of justice institutions: In historical perspective and present status: in the special context of UP) indicates that in Bihar out of the total disputes received by the GK, 58 per cent relate to land, 20 per cent are domestic. Out of the total cases 85 per cent relate to Dalits and backward classes. In case of 10 per cent fine ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 1000 has been imposed. And in most of the cases the fine has been paid by the culprits. It is notable that merely three per cent of cases went to the higher courts. The Centre for Rural Research and Industrial Development, Chandi-garh has conducted a study of ‘Functioning of Nyaya Panchayats in Himachal Pradesh’ in 2011. The study revealed that 100 per cent cases of disputes have been solved by the NPs and interestingly people are satisfied with the judgments. Out of the total cases, 16 per cent have been solved immediately, 32 per cent solved within two to three days, and 29 per cent within a week. The rest of the cases have been solved within a fortnight. The above case studies of two States support the NP system in the country.

In a country where more than 2.53 crore cases are pending in the courts, decentralised justice distribution system could be a workable solution of access to justice for all.

For socio-economic development of the rural areas, the Panchayats have been given constitu-tional status by the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution and 29 subjects have also been assigned to the Panchayats as per the Eleventh Schedule, but the provision for settling the disputes arising from implementation of schemes and programmes relating to these 29 subjects have to be made in the State Panchayat Acts to make them an integral part of dencentra-lised governance, planning and development.

 As the Panchayati Raj Institutions have become the training ground for elected representatives to know about the art of preparing, executing economic development and social justice plans for development in their respective areas, the Nyaya Panchayats, if established on a sustainable basis with clear demarcation of their jurisdiction, would also become training grounds for the rural people to dispense natural justice between the contending parties, besides installing a sense of fairness and responsibility among them.

Instances of harassment and torture of the weaker sections, including women, would not have taken place if the dispute settling machinery was in place at the local level. Moreover, the weaker sections’ participation in dispensing justice shall give them the requisite confidence. If such a system of dispute resolution is not operationalised, then various groups at the local level may have their own outfits, as mentioned by G. Haragopal, that in Andhra Pradesh People’s Courts run by the People’s War Group delivered justice at the doorstep of the people and the poor started looking up to such forms of justice dispensation as these were accessible to them at the local level.

Dr Mahi Pal, now retired, is a former officer of the Indian Economic Services.

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