Accessibility to Judicial System in Rural Areas: Truth to Be Explored
This Blog is written by Ayushee Priya from KIIT School of Law, Odisha. Edited by Ravikirna Shukre.
Judiciary is the most trusted institution in India. Indian Judiciary is one of the oldest legal systems all over the world. India has borrowed many features of the Constitution from many countries like British, Ireland, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Russia, France, Germany, South Africa, and Japan. India has borrowed many features of the Constitution from different countries but drafted in accordance with historical backgrounds, culture, geographical range, and traditional characteristics of India. Supreme Court is the highest court in India and it is also known as the apex court. Then, comes the High Court which exercises jurisdiction over States. The district courts also known as subordinate courts are below High courts. The District courts are governed and controlled by the District and Session judges.
Panchayat raj is the oldest system of local government. Traditionally, the members of the panchayat were the elder people selected by the village community. These leaders were often called as mukhiya, pradhan or sarpanch. Panchayat raj is divided into three levels namely Village Panchayat, Block Samiti and Zila Parishad. It was formulated by 73rd amendment in 1992. The first village panchayat was formed in Nagaur, Rajasthan. The second state was Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra was the ninth state.
There are many problems faced by the rural population. They get insolvent by filling a single case in years but still did not get justice. There is a lack of information. There are still people not getting justice. There is not enough power to panchayats for revenue generation which results in limited functional autonomy. The suggestions of the State Finance Commission are not taken seriously. Despite the implementation of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution, the results of the enactment of State Panchayat Raj Acts, setting up of State Election Commission and State Finance Commissions, and holding of regular Panchayat elections providing reservation for SCs/STs/Women in Panchayats fell short of expectations.
The Panchayat raj is mainly found in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The word panchayat means ‘assembly’ and raj means ‘rule’. Traditionally, these panchayats were formed to settle the dispute between peoples. During Rigveda that is 1700 BC, self-governing bodies ‘sabhas’ existed. It is composed of five elders of the village to dispense justice and settle disputes. After India gain independence, Mahatma Gandhi wanted Panchayat raj to be the foundation of India’s political system because he believed that villages contained the essence of India.
In 1993, the seventy-third and seventy-fourth amendments to the Constitution of India created more streamlined structures for Panchayats on the village and district levels. However, Gram Panchayat’s that existed today are different from both Gandhi’s vision and the way they functioned traditionally. The Gram Panchayat is now lead by the Sarpanch which is democratically elected by the people of the village. The five elders of the council are elected by the Gram Sabha, which is made of every member of the village above the age of eighteen years. Together, the Sarpanch and other elected members of the council constitute Gram Panchayat.
In recent times there have been proposals made to give the Sarpanch the power to look into civil and criminal cases as well. Different states have different rules and regulations in place to decide the extent of the Panchayat’s power. Bihar becomes the first State to offer 50 percent of the Panchayat seats to women in 2005. In Odisha, 5th March is celebrated as the Panchayati Raj Diwas on the occasion of the birth anniversary of the former Chief Minister of Odisha Biju Patnaik.
There are many problems faced by rural people in the current scenario. Nowadays, corruption is the biggest issue the country is facing. There are many scams like CWG scam, 2G scam, Adarsh society scam which questions the proper functioning of the Government. There is no accountability and the media is also hiding such crimes to escape contempt. India now has the most number of pending cases covering the Supreme Court, various High Courts, and the various District Courts. The number of cases increased due to the inadequacy of the system. It has always been discussed to increase the number of judges and number of courts in the country but the implementation is always inadequate. There is a lack of transparency in the Indian judiciary. Due to delay in the judgment of a particular case, a person spends longer time in jail than the particular term. Lakhs of peoples are dependent on the Indian legal system have to face delayed decisions. This results in a violation of a person’s fundamental right to fair justice and speedy trial guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It is the obligation of the judiciary to perform its duties efficiently to ensure that everything works properly.
There are two essential requirements for the fruitful functioning of the judiciary namely timeliness and disposal of cases. An inadequate number of judges is the main reason behind the delay in dispensing justice to people which as a result is a great injustice to the victims of the crime. There is a number of laws that were laid years ago and which have lost their relevance in the present days. Such laws need to be amended or repealed so that they are not misused. The Right to Information Act, 2005 says that citizens have the right to know any information from any public office. In rural areas, people also have lack information and awareness about their fundamental rights which are guaranteed to them by the Constitution. The denial of equal access to the legal system of India results in victims suffering and denies justice which is the main objective of the Indian legal system.
The Indian rural mostly depends upon agriculture as they are uneducated. The people in rural areas are unemployed because they lack the skills to take up opportunities in life and aware of the benefits of the judiciary. If the agricultural people are educated in rural areas, then it is easier to business and the development rate will also be high. The uneducated people mostly did not get justice and they are mostly created by other people. Courts in rural areas are not maintained properly because they do not know the importance of justice in their lives.
The Nagas are the inhabitants of the Naga Hills in the eastern Himalayas. Nagas consist of many tribes speaking different languages. Britain after taking control over Assam in 1826 expanded its domain over Naga Hills by 1892. In 1918 these people formed a Naga club. In 1929, the club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission requesting that the Nagas should be given a choice of self-determination after the British departure from India. Between 1990 and 2000, low-intensity conflicts have been witnessed in Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, and Tripura. These differences in territories were a lack in the judicial system and were at high risk of getting less justice and many fewer courts were also there in these territories.
• Balwant Rai Committee was established in 1957. This committee was set up to suggest and examine the measures of the National Extension Service and Community Development Programme. The committee suggested the establishment of a democratic decentralized local government which came to be known as the Panchayati Raj.
• Ashok Mehta Committee was established in 1977. This committee was set up to reinforce and bring back the reducing Panchayati raj system in India.
• G V K Rao Committee was established in 1985 by the planning commission. It acknowledged that development was not seen at the grassroots level due to bureaucratization resulting in Panchayat Raj institutions.
• L M Singhvi Committee was established in 1986 by the Government of India. The main motive was to suggest steps to strengthen the Panchayati raj system for development.
• 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act,1992 – The then Prime Minister of India Mr. P V Narasimha Rao passed the 73rd Amendment act to form the Panchayati Raj system. This Act added Part IX to the Constitution of India. It also added the Eleventh schedule to the Constitution of India. With the Act, Panchayati Raj systems come under the purview of the justiciable part of the Constitution and mandates states to adopt the system.
• PESA Act, 1996 – The many objectives of this act. It extended provisions of Part IX to the scheduled areas. It provided the tribal people self-rule. It ensured to safeguard the customs and traditions of the tribal population.
In the case, M.J Simon vs Union of India, the petitioner seeks a declaration that Articles 243D (2), 234D (3), 243D (4) along with its second proviso 243T (2), 243T (3), and the part of Article 243T (4) of the Constitution of India which dispense reservation in the favor of women were beyond the power of modification under Article 368 since the above-mentioned provisions destroy the basic structure. It also challenged some provisions of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and Kerala Municipality Act, 1994 as unconstitutional. Seats had been reserved in panchayats and municipality for Schedule Castes, Schedule Tribe, and women by the virtue of Article 243D and Article 243 P to 243 ZG.
The court, in this case, cited the Government of Andhra Pradesh v. P.B Vijay Kumar and other cases to hold that reservation of posts for women or special preferences given to them was constitutionally valid. The village panchayats, block panchayats, and district panchayats provided reservations for women as provided in The Kerala Panchayat Act, 1994. It also provided that one-third of the total seats in the elections should be filled with women. It also mentioned that one-third of the seats in the village, block, and district panchayats are reserved for SC/ST women.
There is definitely a lack of access to courts. Judiciary plays a vital role in our country. Supreme Court is the highest court that acts as the guardian. Without a judiciary, the system can collapse because it settles disputes between individuals and groups. Judiciary is the justice provider which needs proper functioning and maintenance. It also needs qualified and experienced judges that are fair and unbiased. Moreover, citizens should be well aware of the judiciary and educated to know the importance and benefits of the judiciary.
People in rural areas are less accessible to the judiciary because of fewer resources available to them. They prefer work over education. If there are any disputes among individuals, they try to settle the dispute themselves. This situation arises due to unawareness and illiteracy. Women in rural areas are very vulnerable. They have lack knowledge and information. They may not be aware that they have a right to claim their protection because they are unaware of their legal rights that they have been guaranteed by the Constitution. Female seclusion is such a thing that led rural women to become more hesitant to claim their rights.
There is definitely less accessibility of judiciary in rural areas but this situation can be changed if there are campaigns to create awareness about education, legal rights, and benefits of the judiciary. If there are authorities to check whether there are proper maintenance and proper functioning of courts. Development of infrastructure in rural areas. If the village is economically developed, justice is more available to the inhabitants of the village. This will increase the welfare of inhabitants of the rural areas which will give them the chance to protect their legal rights. There should be enough judges in the courts to dispose of the cases quickly and effectively. There should creation of a judicial system on the basis of uniform territorial distribution. It should be taken into consideration the distance for most remote areas so that every person could access the courts without any problem. There should be a reduction of costs for people in rural areas so that they can easily access the courts and in cases of insolvency of clients, the State should bear the cost of the proceedings.
The accessibility of the judiciary in rural areas is very backward. The members of courts as well the people of the rural areas are not provided with many facilities. These people are not aware of their rights. The people are not aware of the Judiciary and benefits and they often prefer not going to the courts. The rural people have to be educated so that they can understand the benefit of the judiciary. Most people in rural areas believe that education would not help them to survive and for their livelihood, they engage their children in work. We have to provide them with proper counseling to make them understand that basic education is necessary. To eradicate crime, we need quality education and a trusted institution like Indian Judiciary. People in India still believe that if they are not getting justice anywhere, they believe that they will get justice in courts. India should increase the accessibility of justice to rural areas.