Report No. 114
Critical Examination on the Question of Jurisdiction, Powers Etc.
6.1. Territorial Jurisdiction.-
Commissions and Committees have at regular intervals recommenced introduction or rejuvenation of institution providing for participatory justice till now commonly described as Nyaya Panchayat. However, having shown very serious consideration for Nyaya Panchayat, every report of the Commission as well as of a Committee has been chary of conferring substantial jurisdiction on the institution of Nyaya Panchayat1. Chapter 43 of the Fourteenth Report of the Law Commission has extensively set out jurisdiction conferred by various State statutes on a Nyaya Panchayat. Civil jurisdiction of a Nyaya Panchayat varied between pecuniary limits of Rs. 25 and Rs. 50.
That Law Commission after review of the statutes recommended a maximum limit of pecuniary jurisdiction of Rs. 200 or Rs. 250. It further advocated that if any particular Nyaya Panchayat has proved to be efficient, its jurisdiction may be enlarged to Rs. 300 with the approval of the High Court. In regard to criminal matters, the first Law Commission did not recommend empowering the Nyaya Panchayat to impose substantive sentence or any sentence in default of payment of fine. The jurisdiction in this behalf was restricted to inflicting punishment by way of fine not exceeding Rs. 50.
Diverse opinions were expressed in the matter of conferment of civil and criminal jurisdiction on the proposed Gram Nyayalaya. There was visible hesitation in favour of conferring unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction. There was also hesitation in conferring jurisdiction in criminal matters to impose substantive sentence. The whole approach appears to be a hangover of the past. In the process what is overlooked by the participants in the debate is that the forum of Gram Nyayalaya has an entirely different complexion than the traditional panchyats in that it has as its Presiding Judge, a legally trained person, who would otherwise be competent to man any court in subordinate judiciary below the district court. This innovative features must inform the mind of the Commission in devising wider and larger jurisdiction rejecting the hangover of the bygone days.
The local geographical jurisdiction of a Gram Nyayalaya should be confined to the Taluka/Tehsil for which it is set up. There shall be a Gram Nyayalaya with an office at the Taluka/Tehsil level and this Gram Nyayalaya will have jurisdiction over all villages falling within the Taluka/Tehsil. If the number of disputes coming before the Gram Nyayalaya set up for a Taluka/Tehsil are not sufficient to keep it engaged full-time, the State Government with the approval of the High Court may enlarge the jurisdiction of a Gram Nyayalaya to extend over more than one Tehsil.
A Gram Nyayalaya operating from the headquarter of a Taluka/Tehsil would be better equipped to deal with effectively and expeditiously disputes arising in any of the villages comprised in that Taluka/Tehsil. In devising a Gram Nyayalaya for each Taluka/Tehsil, the Commission has kept in view that ordinarily villages comprised in a Taluka/Tehsil will have common traditions and customs, neighbourhood information and nuances of local dialect. Setting up of a Gram Nyayalaya at Taluka/Tehsil level will not result in multiplication of courts because even at present mostly the lowest level court such as Munsif/Civil Judge (Jr. Division) is set up at Taluka/Tehsil level. The format is that a group of villages form a Taluka/Tehsil. A number of Taluka/Tehsils form a district. And the State is divided into districts.
The pyramidic court structure provides for a base level court, with intermediate district courts and the High Court at the Apex. At present there is a court of Munsif Magistrate/Civil Judge (Jr. Division), Judicial Magistrate, First Class at almost every Taluka/Tehsil level. With the introduction of Gram Nyayalaya, the work in the court of Munsif Magistrate will be considerably reduced. Depending upon the number of villages in a Taluka, some present day base level courts may suffer total erosion of their work. This is a relevant factor in working out cost benefit ratio. A Gram Nyayalaya at Taluka/Tehsil level, according to the view of the Commission, be expected to visit as far as possible the subject-matter of the dispute, place where it has arisen or the spot which is a subject-matter of the dispute such as in the case of a dispute as to existence of farm roads, water channels, passages of air and light etc.
The approach of the Commission is that justice must be made available at the door of the rural population, an ideal which was envisioned by the first Law Commission when it observed that: 'the Panchayat courts alone can solve the problem of bringing justice to the door of the villagers.'2 The present Report is an attempt to translate this ideal into reality. Accordingly, the Commission is of the view that a Gram Nyayalaya should be set up at the headquarter of Taluka/ Tehsil having jurisdiction over all villages comprised within that Taluka/Tehsil.
The participatory forum is being devised for the benefit of the rural community. Its civil jurisdiction comprises various types of disputes at village level. The benefit of this new experiment should be made available to rural community. It was, therefore, proposed that the Gram Nyayalaya will have territorial jurisdiction over villages comprised in a Taluka/Tehsil for which it is set up. This approach may need definition of what should be called a 'village'. Confirmed votaries of participatory justice did not want to confine its experiment in the first instance to villages. Their approach was that the Commission should identify and specify the nature of disputes and irrespective of the fact that where they have arisen such as rural, urban or metropolitan areas, participatory forum must be set up for resolution of such disputes.
Undoubtedly, it is a good idea, but when a definite departure is being made from this existing system, we may tread slowly and cautiously, both of which are of course negative factors. To make the experiment precise and efficacious in the first instance, this new forum should be made available to the village community. It should not be forgotten that 80% of the Indian population resides in villages. Therefore, a precise definition will have to be devised of a 'village'. The briefest definition that can be considered appropriate is 'village is a unit of administration for which no municipality is set up. That would accurately define the area to be brought within the territorial jurisdiction of the proposed Gram Nyayalaya.
1. LCI Fourteenth Report, Chapter 43, para. 45-Civil jurisdiction upto Rs. 250, Criminal Jurisdiction upto a fine of Rs. 80; Study Team on Nyaya Panchayat, Ch. IX, para. 6.2 Pecuniary limit of Rs. 250 and in criminal matters, fine of Rs. 50.
2. LCI Fourteenth Report, Vol. II, Chapter 43, para. 21.