In its 114th Report, the Law Commission of India proposed the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas to provide citizens with inexpensive and timely access to justice at their doorsteps. The Gram Nyayalayas Bill was enacted by Parliament on December 22, 2008, and the Gram Nyayalayas Act went into effect on October 2, 2009.
The Act extends to the whole of India, except to the States of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and to the tribal areas specified in parts of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India within the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, respectively.
The State Government, in consultation with the High Court, may establish one or more Gram Nyayalayas for each Panchayat at the intermediate level or for a group of contiguous Panchayats at the intermediate level in a district, or for a group of contiguous Gram Panchayats in any State where there is no Panchayat at the intermediate level.
The following are the key characteristics of the Gram Nyayalayas Act:
Gram Nyayalayas are intended to provide inexpensive justice to people in rural areas at their doorsteps and ensure that opportunities for justice are not denied to any citizen owing to social or economic reasons.
Gram Nyayalayas are to be established for every intermediate Panchayat or for a group of contiguous Gram Panchayats; The seat of the Gram Nyayalayas shall be located at the headquarters of the intermediate Panchayat.
The Nyayadhikari shall periodically visit villages and may hear the parties and dispose of the cases at the place other than its headquarters;
The Gram Nyayalayas will try criminal cases, civil suits, claims or disputes which are specified in the First Schedule and the Second Schedule to the Act.
They are to follow summary procedure in criminal trials;
Disputes are to be settled as far as possible through conciliation between the parties, and for this purpose, the Gram Nyayalayas will use the conciliators to be appointed for this purpose;
The Gram Nyayalaya shall not be bound by the rules of evidence provided in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, but shall be guided by the principles of natural justice subject to any rule made by the High Court.
The Gram Nyayalayas scheme has been evaluated from time to time. The third party evaluation of the Scheme was done through NITI Aayog recently, which recommended continuance of the scheme. The Government has extended the above scheme for a further period of five years from 01.04.2021 to 31.03.2026, with a budgetary outlay of Rs.50 crores.
The Central Government has been encouraging the States to set up Gram Nyayalayas by providing financial assistance. As per the scheme, the Central Government provides one-time assistance to States towards non-recurring expenses for setting up of Gram Nyayalayas subject to a ceiling of Rs. 18.00 lakhs per Gram Nyayalaya. The Central Government also provides assistance towards recurring expenses for operating these Gram Nyayalayas subject to a ceiling of Rs. 3.20 lakhs per Gram Nyayalaya per year for the first three years.
The concept of gram nyayalya is beneficial to grassroots democracy and prepares the path for decentralisation of Justice. It would not only increase access to justice, but will also assist in reducing the burden of pending cases on higher courts.
However, much like any other policy, its success and efficacy are dependent on implementation . It has been found that state governments lack motivation due to a lack of financial resources; they believe states are being burdened with tasks without enough resources.
As previously said, the only way ahead is collaboration, and the centre has offered fiscal help for the programme in the budget outlay. There must also be some kind of review framework in place to supervise the state's efforts in terms of establishing gram nyaylyas and evaluating the performance of existing nyaylyas.