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Setback to grassroots justice: Govt of India "backtracks" on village-level courts

By Our Representative
A draft report, prepared by an Ahmedabad-based NGO, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), has alleged that, in a major setback to an important social sector scheme in India, the momentum for setting up the Gram Nyayalayas -- village courts -- has been lost, and there is a clear sense of “lack of ownership” about the scheme across India’s governing institutions.
The report has been prepared following a field visit by CSJ volunteers. It says, “Our field visits in Madhya Pradesh in the districts of Sagar, Katni, Panna, Bhopal and Itarsi show that while the Gram Nyayalayas have been notified, they do not function. Instead of appointing new staff, the existing courts have been designated as Gram Nyayalayas.”
A senior activist, who is in the midst of preparing the report, said, the attitude of the Government of India can be gauged from the fact that in Gujarat, under Narendra Modi’s chief ministership (2001-14), not a single Gram Nyayalaya was set up. “In fact, during an internal meeting, Modi stated, there is no need for Gram Nyayalaya as the state’s rural areas are becoming urbanized”, the activist informed Counterview.
The decision to set up Gram Nyayalayas was formally floated in 2009 following the enactment of Gram Nyayalaya Act, 2008, which focused on setting up of another wrung of judiciary at the village level under the Department of Justice. “The purpose behind enacting the legislation was to provide legal support to the grassroots for purposes of providing access to justice”, the report says.
Quoting a starred question in Parliament to prove its point, the CSJ report says, the process of setting up Gram Nyayalayas has been “slowed down”, and a decision has already been taken at the highest level “to merge the scheme with regular infrastructure development schemes of the judiciary.”
Starred Question dated December 4, 2014, quoted in the report also adm,its, “The progress of setting up Gram Nyayalaya has been very slow due to factors like non-appointment of Nyaya Adhikari, lack of cooperation from various stake holders, concurrent jurisdiction of regular courts and non-availability of lawyers and notaries.”
The decision to “merge” the Gram Nayayalikas into infrastructure schemes of judiciary was also taken, the report says, because the Government of India reached the conclusion that “majority of states now have regular taluka level courts”, the CSJ report states.
Quoting budget estimates for 2014-15, the report says, they too clearly suggest that “the scheme for setting up Gram Nyayalayas has been merged with the centrally sponsored scheme for infrastructure development for judiciary.”
“The payment for setting up Gram Nyayalayas was to follow a pattern: It was Rs 18 lakh as the setting up cost per Gram Nyayalaya and Rs 3.20 lakh as recurring costs per court”, the report states. Thus, while the reply to the Starred Question (No 170) said on December 4, 2014 that in all Rs 499 lakh was allocated for Gram Nyayalikas, a Press Information Bureau (PIB) release says, as on March 9, 2015 the total amount allocated was just Rs 101 lakh.
There is also discrepancy in the number of Gram Nayalayas operationalized, the report says. Thus, while the PIB states that as many as 194 Gram Nyayalayas as on March 9, 2015 had been operationalized, a reply to a right to information (RTI) query, as on April 6, 2015, said that the number of Gram Nyayalayas that have been operationalized is 159.
The “indifference” stands in sharp contrast to the previous UPA government’s announcement that the amount being allocated towards setting up Gram Nyayalayas had being increased by 75 percent, the report says, adding, the effort appears to be underway to undermine “participatory justice” that is more user friendly and is meant for the vulnerable sections.

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