Unleashing the community potential of Indian villages

5.3 Judicial
Each village must have a nyay panchayat consisting of five members. Every member should have passed a certificate course conducted by a judicial commission developed for this purpose. The course should be such that even an illiterate person can get certified. The village Gram Sabha will elect them for a fixed period of ten years, and one person will retire and be replaced/renewed every two years in rotation. This initiative will be mostly honorary on a cost-covering basis, which the village should mostly bear.
Relevance:         This is one of the most crucial of freedoms which the village needs to be granted. ... The underlying principle is that the village should have a limited right to be able to conduct its judicial activities on the basis of its tradition and culture. Potential for such activity should not get restricted by the insistence that one must apply the rigors of the thousands and thousands of laws drafted at the national and state levels (some international ones too). The need to refer to the rigors of law as mentioned in the law books must be avoided where possible. This arrangement of scanning the books for everything comes from the present arrangement of courts established on the modern ideal of rigor of law. In contrast, rights and responsibilities of the nyay panchayats must be based on rigors of tradition and rigors of practice which are the next two lower reference points that can be a surrogate for law. Incidentally, in the Indian parlance, dharma is known to be the highest surrogate—even higher than law. But this effectively comes into play when the legislature seeks to improve upon the law and uses the voice of the majority to determine what is humanely (divinely) the best possible law. However, for the nyay panchayat of the village to function, the village must be conscious of traditions and practices that have been reconciled with modern law as emanating from the constitution of India.

Taking this approach has many advantages. It is capable of giving some disciplining authority in the hands of the village. It will therefore strengthen the village community. Low-cost remedies for seeking justice will automatically be in place. If due respect is paid to the opinions of the five elders of the established judiciary, then much of the cases that are pending in courts for years can be resolved quickly at the lower levels in due course of time in an environment which is more customized to one’s traditions and where the primary focus is on arbitration rather than contest.

Detailed Rationale:         If someone has been appointed nyay panch, then they will not be allowed to take any positions ... in the executive and legislative sections of the village until at least two years after their term in the nyay panchayat. There should be procedures laid down to make the impeachment of an erring official possible. At the same time, it should not be so simple that throwing out people seems to be a matter of whim or simple majority.

They will sit in benches of not less than three for any issue concerning their village. All proceedings will be recorded and documented. A copy of the same will be sent to the taluka level court periodically. The decisions of the nyay panchayats will be subject to review by a higher people’s court (Higher Nyay Panchayat) that will be constituted at an inter-village level after which a review can be done by a nyay panchayat at the district level. The same case may also be taken to the taluka level magistrates. In those cases, there will be a caveat by which any one of the members of the nyay panchayat that gave the decision will be requested to depose before the magistrate or taluka court at government cost. Or as a minimum, the reports of the happenings of that particular case in the nyay panchayat will be looked into by the court before a decision is given. The alternative is the creation of a jury at the taluka magistrate level.

When appeals from these local courts (or panchayat courts) move to higher courts, if due regard is given by the judges to the customs and traditions of local populations while upholding the principles enshrined in the constitution, a lot of strength can be delivered to local communities. In so strengthening the hands of the grassroots-level judiciary, the possibility of delivering low-cost and time-bound justice increases phenomenally. Though it may require a radical shift from western arrangements of judicial systems, a careful look at the traditional systems like the one currently existing in Britain and that which existed in our own ancient past shows that, if handled systematically, much good can come out of it.

In all likelihood, this arrangement of the judiciary will end up being a panel of five elders. It should be left to the villages as to what the nature of the composition may be. These persons will have both the acceptability of the village and a suitable certification by the government. At the next level, the PURA level, there will be another bench of five members who are distinguished jurors from the concerned region. Similarly, another bench will be present at the district level. At the higher levels, the team can also consist of a representative of the present formal judiciary whose duty will be to take notes and give advice but give decisions in equal weight as a nyay panch.

It has been demonstrated in other judicial arrangements that it is possible to define the limits of the sphere of power for a local judicial arrangement which can adjudicate on the basis of local laws. The limits can be defined through centralized processes at the state or national level. The local laws can be set up by the locals themselves within the limits defined. Such local laws can be given a chance once they have been scrutinized by the government for compliance with the constitution of India.

Success Stories and Action:
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The immediate course of action should be the village shortlisting five of its elders, who are not in the executive body of the village, as village magistrates (for the first term). Thereafter, a systematic and transparent procedure for efficient functioning can be developed. Also, a permanent caveat can be put in the courts immediately for all cases going to the formal judicial system which the nyay panchayats have already heard. Besides this, the formal courts at the lowest level can respond positively, considerate of the decisions of the nyay panchayats. Over and above that, the village community may put pressure on its citizens to resolve issues in the local nyay panchayat itself—though, of course, access to the main courts will not be denied.

However, there is no doubt that for affecting this arrangement, there is a need to restructure the infrastructure at the taluka level to cater for such lower judiciary. This can be achieved only when the three branches of the government at the national level (especially the legislative and judiciary) come together to implement such an arrangement.

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