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Report No. 114

6.2. Civil Jurisdiction.-

The expression 'jurisdiction' of a court connotes geographical jurisdiction, civil jurisdiction and criminal jurisdiction. The question of the scope of civil jurisdiction is not easy of solution. The past heavily hangs upon the present and blurs the vision of the future, pointed out hereinbefore, till 1958 pecuniary jurisdiction of Nyaya Panchayat in civil matters oscillated from Rs. 25 to Rs. 50 and in rare cases to Rs. 200. Panchayats, if proved efficient, were to be conferred jurisdiction upto the pecuniary limit of Rs. 500. The fall in the purchase power of the rupee coupled with enormous rise in the price of commodities and immovable properties, one shudders at the idea of conferring a jurisdiction involving civil dispute where the value of the subject-matter would be Rs. 250. It would be a mockery of the much trumpeted new forum.

Therefore, the past approach has to be rejected as having become utterly irrelevant. But the question that need be posed is whether ceiling in the matter of pecuniary jurisdiction is at all a relevant consideration when a new forum is devised? Various States have enlarged the jurisdiction of Munsif/Civil Judge (Jr. Division) to Rs. 20,000. Such wide jurisdiction can be conferred on the Gram Nyayalaya because among the personnel manning it would be a man of the level of Munsif/ Civil Judge (Jr. Division). The approach of the Commission is that a time has come to reshape the approach as to pecuniary jurisdiction. The value of the subject-matter of a dispute would have hardly any co-relation to the capacity of a person to deal with it judicially. Money value is misleading. Real value of a subject is what the claimant attaches to it.

A poorman may have a high value for an ordinary thing and would fight for it. The well-to-do may ignore it. It is highly anomalous to assert that capacity to deal with judicially is related to money value. The Commission has not been able to find any co-relation between the pecuniary value of the subject-matter of a dispute and the capacity of the Judge to deal with it. A lay arbitrator chosen by the parties can deal with subject-matter valued at any amount. Therefore, while devising a new forum, it is worthwhile to break this tenuous and unscientific connection between the pecuniary value of the subject-matter of dispute and the capacity of the person to deal with it.

The real co-relation should be established keeping in view the nature of the dispute and the capacity of the person charged with a duty to resolve such dispute. In para. 2.7 of the working paper, the Commission has set out broad classification of the nature of disputes arising in rural areas. Classification and identification of disputes arising in villages was done by a cursory examination of the institution of cases in Taluka/Tehsil courts variously described as court. of Munsif/Civil Judge Ur. Division).

A glance at the head of each dispute therein set out would clearly reveal that the pecuniary value of the dispute is hardly relevant. How would one value a boundary dispute or a minor encroachment? How would one value dispute as to entries in revenue records? Looking to the nature of disputes in the context of jurisdiction to resolve/adjudicate it by a Gram Nyayalaya, the Commission invited opinion from various sources on the question whether pecuniary ceiling should be imposed in the matter of civil jurisdiction to be conferred on Gram Nyayalaya.

As in all other aspects opinion varied from extremely conservative to totally radical. Those who are advocates of status quo expressed an opinion that it would be wholly risky to confer jurisdiction with a pecuniary ceiling of Rs. 5,000 on the Gram Nyayelaya. On the other hand, there was a body of opinion that the ceiling of pecuniary jurisdiction should be done away with. The centrist approach was that pecuniary jurisdiction should be that high as is at present conferred in a given Stale on the court of a Munsif /Civil Judge (Jr. Division).

Between these two extremes, the Commission had to find a viable medium but referable to some known principles. Careful consideration was accorded to all the rival contentions, apprehensions and reservations. The Commission is not convinced that capacity to resolve a dispute is conditioned by the market value of the subject-matter of dispute. That approach has outlived its utility. The Commission is of the opinion that jurisdiction must be referable to subject-matter of the dispute and not to its pecuniary value. Thus there shall be no ceiling in the matter of pecuniary jurisdiction of the Gram Nyayalaya.

The heads of dispute set out in para. 2.7 of the working paper have been generally approved by all the participants as would be falling within the purview of Gram Nyayalaya. Some legal academics raised a doubt that land and revenue jurisdiction being subject-matter comprised in the State List, Parliament will have no legislative capacity to enact such a legislation. This will be presently dealt with hereafter. Votaries of Gram Nyayalaya desired an extension of jurisdiction under the following heads:

1. Non-payment of wages and violation of Minimum Wages Act;

2. Money suits either arising from trade transaction or money-lending;

3. Disputes arising out of the partnership in cultivation of land;

4. Disputes as to the use of forest produce by local inhabitants;

5. Complaints of harassment against local officials belonging to police, revenue, forest, medical and transport departments;

6. Disputes arising from the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.

Looking to the heads of disputes herein indicated, they can conveniently be brought within the jurisdiction of the Gram Nyayalaya. Therefore, it is recommended that over and above the heads of jurisdiction in para. 2.7, the aforementioned five heads be included and be brought within the jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalaya. The Commission would favour conferment of civil jurisdiction on Gram Nyayalaya in respect of disputes covered by the subject-matter herein delineated:-

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