Report No. 14
41. Outsiders to hear cases (Parties to nominate panchas).-
In order to obviate, as far as possible, factional or partisan influence in the functioning of these courts a court may be constituted for a group of villages situated in nearby areas. Where such courts exist, a rule may be made that in disposing of disputes which have arisen in a particular village, the nyaya panchas dealing with it should be those coming from other villages. Another method which has been tried in some States may also serve to achieve this end. Liberty may be given to each party to a dispute to select his pancha and the sarpanch may be one who may be elected as such by the panchayat.
42. Training of Panchas essential.-
It is essential that the nyaya panchas and particularly, the sarpanchas should be subjected to a short training. Instances have been brought to our notice of outrageous sentences clearly outside their jurisdiction having been ordered to be inflicted in some stray cases by some of these panchayats. This, doubtless, arises from the ignorance of the panchas of the scope and extent of their jurisdiction and powers. The rules framed by some of the States do provide for a short training but there appears to be no uniform practice in this respect.
It appears to us that a short training of about two weeks given in the village itself or near the village should be sufficient. Such training may usefully be given either by the officer appointed to supervise the working of the panchayat courts or an officer subordinate to him. They should also be instructed to attend the nearby regular courts of the lowest grade under the guidance of the officer. Panchas should be allowed to exercise judicial functions only after they have undergone the prescribed training.
43. Special machinery for supervision to be set up.-
We have noticed that at present, excepting in the State of Kerala, the supervision of these courts is left to the officer in charge of panchayats generally. Many of these officers have no legal training and are preoccupied with administrative work. It appears to us necessary that in each State a special officer or officers should be appointed to supervise the working of these courts. Apart from training, inspection and supervision such an officer or officers would be helpful in guiding the nyaya panchas and giving them advice wherever necessary.
In States such as Madras and Andhra Pradesh, the control and supervision of these courts are vested in the District Munsif or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and the usual procedure is for the President of the panchayat court to produce the records of the court to the District Munsif or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate. It will be more satisfactory to vest such control and supervision in a special officer or officers appointed for the purpose. In this connection, we may refer to the appointment in Kerala of an officer known as the Registrar of Village Courts whose duties include the inspection of these courts and personal attention to their working.
44. Terms of Panchas to be staggered.-
In order to provide a continuity of trained panchas, notwithstanding their recruitment by periodical elections, a provision should be made in the relevant Acts by which the vacation of their offices by the nyaya panchas may be staggered; so that some of the existing trained nyaya panchas would continue to function together with the recruits brought in by the new elections.
45. Proposed jurisdiction-civil and criminal.-
In the matter of jurisdiction of these courts, it is necessary to proceed with considerable caution. While we deprecate their pecuniary jurisdiction being restricted to such small amounts as Rs. 10 or Rs. 25, we would advocate a maximum limit of Rs. 200 or Rs. 250. In special cases, where particular panchayats have proved themselves to be efficient, their jurisdiction may be enlarged upto Rs. 500 with the approval of the High Court. Such enhanced jurisdiction must, however, cease with the reconstitution of the panchayat on a re-election.
In regard to criminal matters, we do not approve of the panchayats being empowered to inflict a sentence of imprisonment either substantively or in default of the payment of a fine. Nor should they have powers to bind over persons for keeping the peace. Their jurisdiction should be restricted to inflicting punishments by way of fine not exceeding Rs. 50. The legislation of some States have conferred powers on State Governments to invest these courts with a much wider jurisdiction in criminal matters. The conferment of such jurisdiction appears to us unwise, at any rate, till these courts have gathered greater experience and justified the smaller powers entrusted to them.
46. Limited revisional jurisdiction.-
We would provide a revision from the decisions of these panchayats in civil and criminal matters to the munsif or the sub-divisional magistrate. A power of revision to the District Judge who would be at a distance from the village and busy with important matters appears to us to be inadvisable. Nor would we recommend an appeal to a Full Bench of the panchayat court being provided as, for example, in the State of Bihar.
The powers of revision should be restricted to cases of corruption, gross partiality or misconduct of the panchas, miscarriage of justice or the exercise of jurisdiction not vested in them or to cases where they have acted otherwise illegally. [See section 73 of the Madras Village Courts Act, 1888 (1 of 1889)]. Power should also be given to the munsif or sub-divisional magistrate to transfer a matter from one panchayat court to another or to the regular court for trial.
47. Power to District Judge to direct removal of Panchas.-
It is also necessary to make a provision, as in the Madras Act, for the removal of panchas on the ground of corruption, gross partiality or misconduct. The munsif or the sub-divisional magistrate who comes across a case of such a nature should be obliged to report it to the District Judge who could thereupon write to the Collector requiring him to remove the pancha or panchas concerned. It would also be necessary to provide for appeals against such orders of removal as in the Madras Act (Act 1 of 1889).
48. Court Fees and Procedure.-
In some of the States such as Madras and Andhra Pradesh, no court fees are levied. In some other States such as Uttar Pradesh, the fees tend to be a fairly substantial percentage of the amount claimed. We think that the fees chargeable in these courts should be nominal fees. We suggest the following:-
Suits upto Rs. 100 upto a maximum of Re. 1.
Suits from Rs. 101 to Rs. 200 upto a maximum of Rs. 2.
Suits from Rs. 201 to Rs. 300 upto a maximum of Rs. 3.
Suits from Rs. 301 to Rs. 400 upto a maximum of Rs. 4. Suits from Rs. 401 to Rs. 500 upto a maximum of Rs. 5. The process fees, wherever leviable, should also be nominal.
Most of the Acts constituting these courts provide a simple procedure modelled on the Civil Procedure Code. They also contain provisions making it clear that it is not obligatory on these courts to follow the provisions of the Evidence Act and the Civil Procedure Code and also provisions barring the appearance of lawyers before these courts. We have already indicated above our approval of provisions of this nature.
49. Execution of decrees by Panchayat and Collector.-
It is obviously desirable that the decrees and orders of these courts should be capable of prompt execution. Delays would defeat one of the main purposes of the institution of these courts. These courts should have power to distrain and seize movable property in execution of their decrees such as is now conferred on them by a number of Acts constituting them. Provision should, however, be made, wherever these courts are unable to execute their decrees, for the execution to be transferred to the Collector on a certificate being issued by these courts. Provisions such as are contained in the Acts of some States providing for the transfer of execution to the regular courts are clearly unsatisfactory inasmuch as execution delays are one of the most pressing problems in regard to the decrees of the regular courts themselves.
50. Need for more detailed information.-
We have found considerable difficulty in gathering necessary information about the working of these courts in the different States. Though most of the States have constituted panchayats, very few of them maintain statistical data regarding the working of the panchayat courts. The State of Kerala alone has issued an administration report relating to the working of these courts. In Uttar Pradesh a note on the constitution and working of judicial panchayats specially prepared for the Government was handed over to us. In regard to the other States we had to gather such information as we did from general administration reports or notes prepared for our use.
If these tribunals are to be fostered by the States and grow so that they may become live and effective institutions, it is necessary that special officers should be appointed to look after them and that one of the functions of such officers should be to collect and publish all useful information in regard to the work done by these courts. The judicial functions performed by the panchayats should be regarded as being not less important than its functions in regard to the general administration of the village.
It is surprising that though numerous officials of the connected departments of Government guide, direct and watch the panchayats activities in the administrative fields, very few officers are made responsible for the performance of the judicial functions of the panchayats. That perhaps explains the absence of knowledge among the general public of the very useful work done by the nyaya panchayats in some of the States. It is, therefore, vitally necessary that each State should have one or more special officers who may in appropriate cases be judicial officers to look after the panchayati adalats and from time to time publicise the manner of their functioning.