Centre for Public Policy Research in association with Kerala Law Academy organized a Talk on the Gram Nyayalaya Bill by Prof. (Dr.) Madhav Menon on 8 February 2009.

The program began by the invocation to Lord Almighty by Ms. Priyanka from Team CPPR.     Mr. Jithin Paul Varghese delivered the welcome address.

The session began at 12.35 with Dr. Madhav Menon introducing the Gram Nyayalaya Bill. He stressed that Gram Nyayalaya Bill is a very significant legislation and the object of the Act is justice to the poor. In 1978 the concept of Lok Adalats and Legal Aid was introduced. In fact Indira Gandhi had started Garibi Hatao Aandolan and a 20 point program in 1978 for this very purpose. Dr. Madhav Menon was a member of the committee whose chairman was former Supreme Court Justice V R Krishna Iyer. The main problem which the committee was faced with was how to solve the legal problems of harijans, women, poor and needy. Justice Krishna Iyer has expressed his view on the same in the book “Processual Justice of the People” published by Law Ministry of India. Dr Madhav Menon mentioned that this book is a must read which explores the hindrance to providing justice to all the people in India because of the prevalence of Caste System. He said that to find a solution to any problem, it has to be tackled at the grass root level. So the question is how to bring justice to the poor and needy and this problem also has to be tackled at grassroots levels. Justice Bhagwati in one of the Supreme Court decisions described who is a “Barefoot lawyer” – a social worker or activist working in the area of justice. He further went on to say that lawyers should be found in villages of India. Indian Law Commission in 1980 under Justice Desai published two reports on Urban Litigation and Rural litigation respectively which dealt exclusively with Gram Nyayalaya and their types. He emphasised on the question ‘What are the legal needs of the legal poor?’. According to Dr. Madhav Menon, the poor cannot afford justice as the court system prevailing in the country is too expensive. Thus those who are denied justice have nowhere to go. The Law Commission reports were published in the year 1984 and 1985 respectively. But for the last 20 years nothing has been done about the concept of Gram Nyayalaya. Further, the Bill though has been passed by the Parliament has not yet been notified in the Official Gazette. In the Bill it has been said that around 6000 new Gram Nyayalayas will be established.

Dr. Madhav Menon elaborated on the positive aspects of the Bill by saying that nowadays, exploitation is the name of the game. The legal profession is also one such where innocent people are exploited. The very purpose of the Bill is to stop this. The people can approach the Gram Nyayalaya directly to seek justice. Speedy justice will be delivered and moreover justice will be available at your doorsteps. As far as a territorial jurisdiction of the Gram Nyayalaya is concerned, it’s dealt under chapter III; Sections 11 to 17 of the Bill wherein both civil and criminal cases can be decided by the Gram Nyayalaya. First schedule of the Bill contains the list of offences. He suggested that the State government can keep on adding the number of offences to the first schedule whenever it feels like doing so.They can have multiple jurisdictions. High Court of Kerala will determine the financial jurisdiction of the Gram Nyayalayas. Provisions of the Evidence act will not apply to the Gram Nyayalayas. Evidence as such will be presented before the Judge but then not under the provisions of the aforementioned Act. Principles of natural justice will apply in deciding a case of Gram Nyayalaya. No court fees to be paid, no adjournment can be applied for; these are some of the few advantages of gram Nyayalayas. Adversial system of India can turn into Conciliatory system of justice with the evolution of Gram Nyayalayas. Appointment of judges of Gram Nyayalayas will be done by the High Court in consultation with the state govt. Gram Nyayalaya is a court which gives the judgement in one hour. Lawyers will be the officers of the court. They will be available all the time. Object of setting up Gram Nyayalayas is to unite people and not divide them. A conciliatory approach to justice will be established. Strict adherence to law will not be followed in Gram Nyayalaya. It would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. An appeal from Gram Nyayalaya can first lie to lower courts and then from there to the high courts.

Mr. Menon hoped that this bill will be accepted among rural but the lawyers will definitely oppose it. Last but not the least; Mr. Menon said that the Act is very practical in nature.
The vote of thanks was given by Ms. Vishishta Sam member of Team CPPR and a student of Kerala Law Academy, Trivandrum.