Report No. 114
3.1. History of Nyaya Panchayats.-
Leaving aside the Hindu system, the Muslim system, the Royal Tribunals, etc., let us turn to Nyaya Panchayats which appear to be of historic antiquity. Prior to the Mughal period, village communities created their own Panchayats. There was no element of election. Respectable members of the village community formed the Panchayat and the decisions were generally accepted by the village community. Few disputes landed in courts. They were resolved more or less by a process of conciliation at the village level. Undoubtedly, during the Mughal period, some attempt was made for centralisation of justice system but the Britishers realised that there is a sort of an emotional attachment to Panchayat system and it might provide a reliable basis for decentralisation of administration including judicial administration.
The Royal Commission of 1907 upon Decentralisation in India recommended the constitution and development of village Panchayats with certain administrative powers and jurisdiction in petty civil and criminal cases.1 Panchayats were largely responsible for revenue administration of the village. 'Nyaya Panchayat' so named dealt with resolution of disputes. These Nyaya Panchayats are in vogue in one or the other form, sometimes active, more often dormant. Earliest statutory recognition came in the form of the village Courts Act, 1888 in Madras and the work done by such court with its very limited jurisdiction was appreciated by the High Courts of Madras by expressing the hope that more and more people will resort to the village courts.
Number of other provinces adopted legislation similar to the Madras Act. The Civil Justice Committee of 1924-25 observed: "The Village Panchayat-villagers mediating between contending parties in their own village has, in some form or other, existed in this country from the earliest times and that without resort to any elaborate or complicated machinery. The judicial work of the Panchayat is part of that village system which in most parts of India and Burma has been the basis of the indigenous administration from time immemorial."2
1. LCI Fourteenth Report, Vol. II, Ch. 43 Para. 3
2. Extracted in Vol. II, LCI Fourteenth Report.