Nyaya Panchayats

The village panchayats had existed in our ancient legal system but gradually they lost their prestige and importance. During British period, some efforts were made to revive (e.g. Village Courts Act of 1888 which created panchayat courts for petty matters) it, however, the efforts were not sufficient. It is only after the independence that full efforts made to revive panchayats. A provision was made in Article 40 of the Constitution (a directive principle) asking the State to “take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority to enable them to function as units of self-government.”

The nyaya panchayats are the judicial component of the panchayat system. They are the lowest rung of our judiciary created for the dispensation of justice at the local rural level.

Ideology or rationale

The nyaya panchayats were set up for various reasons. According to U.Baxi, some of the features of the ideology behind these nyaya panchayats are:

(i) revival of traditional village community life in India,

(ii), democratic decentralisation,

(iii) lowest rung of State judicial system,

(iv) combination of judicial system and local self-government,

(v) extension of State legal system in rural areas (reduction in pressure on civil courts),

(vi) easy access to justice,

(vii) inexpensive and speedy justice, which is very useful for poor and ignorant villagers.

Most of the States in India have provided for nyaya panchayats. They are, however, functioning only in 8 States Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Rajasthan, Tripura, U.P. and West Bengal. In some States like Haryana and Punjab, the village panchayats have been vested with judicial functions in addition to the municipal and executive functions.

Nyaya Panchayats differs from Ordinary Courts

(1) Structure/Constitution: In U.P. a nyaya panchayat has a Sarpanch at its head, a Sahayak Sarpanch and 10-25 panchas. The panchas are appointed by the district collector from amongst the members of the village panchayats. The panchas select a Sarpanch and Sahayak Sarpanch from amongst themselves. Each member of the nyaya panchayat must be literate and must have attained the age of 30 years.

Thus, nyaya panchayats are based on a system of nomination or election or both. The ordinary courts are based on a system of selection.

(II) Jurisdiction: The jurisdiction of the nyaya panchayats extends to minor civil and criminal matters (civil – contracts, recovery of moveable property, etc. upto the value Rs. 200; Criminal – simple hurt, wrongful restraint, theft, etc.). While in civil matters, the nyaya panchayats can grant any appropriate relief; in criminal matters, it can only impose fine upto Rs. 200 but no imprisonment.

An ordinary court has a higher jurisdiction than a nyaya panchayat. Further, it can impose imprisonment.

(III) Procedure: The procedure in the nyaya panchayats is very simple and informal (i.e. non-technical) and include compromise and conciliation between the parties wherever it is possible.

They are not required to follow the codes of civil or criminal procedure or the law of evidence. But they have the power to call witnesses and the parties for recording their evidence or producing any relevant documents. Unlike courts, they may investigate the facts of a case independently to arrive at the truth. The nyaya panchayats also have the power to punish for its contempt.

Unlike the courts, lawyers are not allowed to appear in the nyaya panchayats.

Decisions of the nyaya panchayats are final subject to –revision by the munsif (in civil matter) and sub-divisional magistrate (in criminal matter).

(IV) Advantages: The nyaya panchayat enjoys a number of advantages over the ordinary courts-

(i) Proceedings before nyaya panchayats are speedy and cheap as compared to the ordinary courts.

Justice in small cases by regular courts takes time and is expensive, because of court-fee and lawyer’s fee.

(ii) It is very difficult for a villageman to go to a regular court of law situated at a distant place. Moreover, the village folk are generally illiterate and do not know the technicalities of law and its weary procedure.

(iii) Being local institutions, it is convenient for the parties and their witnesses to appear before them. Moreover in a village, it is difficult for anyone to tell a lie or produce false evidence.
In a way, justice is brought to the doors of the villager.

(iv) The panchayats besides having a great educative value for the villagers, preserve village harmony and ensure peace.

(v) The nyaya panchayats satisfy a ‘a real-felt need’ of the villagers. Being local, the panchayats are acquainted with local customs and traditions and are better able to handle

(vi) It has been estimated that nearly 70 percent of the load can be taken away from regular courts if nyaya panchayats are vested with jurisdiction to decide cases upto value of Rs. 500. Moreover, burden on State exchequer will lighten a great deal by associating nyaya panchayats in the administration of justice.

(vii) There is no truth in the contention that establishment of these courts would make the villagers factious and would lead to a rise in frivolous/vexatious litigation which earlier they would not even dream of taking to court. On the contrary, the fact that these grievances will meet an easy remedy in the village itself is a justification for creation of these courts.

For centuries together this ‘informal’ and the most indigenous institution created by the villagers themselves continued to function without any intervention, whatsoever, by the ruler.

Defects in Nyaya Panchayats

The question has been discussed over and over again whether the panchayats should be given some judicial powers or not. A nyaya panchayat has certain advantages, but it has disadvantages too-

(i) They are faction-ridden all kinds of factions based on caste, community, personal or political considerations arise. Thus, impartiality cannot be ensured, for the panchas belong to one group or caste or the other. Their decisions always lean in favour of their own men. The villagers lack faith in them.

(ii) Group rivalry and casteism is very common in villages. Thus, it is hardly possible for a weak group or caste to get justice.

(iii) The panchas are corrupt, partial and often behave rudely and improperly. Being ignorant of law, they often give arbitrary and irrational decisions.

(iv) The Law Commission in its 77th Report observed that it will be a backward step to revert to the primitive method of administration of justice by taking our disputes to a group of
ordinary laymen ignorant of the modern complexities of life and not conversant with legal concepts and procedures.

Thus, nyaya panchayats often fails to deliver justice at the grass roots.

Improvements/Suggestions in Nyaya Panchayats

The Law Commission (14th Report, 1958) and various committees (e.g. Ashok Mehta Committee) are of the view that with safeguards designed to ensure their proper working and improvement, these courts are capable of playing a very necessary and useful part in the administration of justice in the country. Some of the important recommendations are:

(i) The constitution of nyaya panchayats for a group of villages with nyaya panchas nominated by a suitable authority. The panchas of the villages to which the litigants belong should not
be allowed to sit in judgement.

(ii) Training of nyaya panchas before they exercise any judicial function.

(iii) Regular inspection of the nyaya panchayat by the Tehsildar/District Munsif or Sub-Divisional Officer to ensure that the proceedings are free from caste/faction consideration. There should be a provision for an appeal to the Munsif in case any party feels aggrieved by the decision.

(iv) Further, the District Munsif should have the power to transfer a case from a panchayat and decide it himself, if a litigant feel that justice would be denied to him by the panchayat.

(v) Provision for removal of panchas on grounds of corruption, partiality or misconduct.

(vi) Some funds should be placed at the disposal of the panchayats so that they can keep proper records of the proceedings and also employ full-time clerks or other officers to assist them. These courts should have power to distrain and seize movable property in execution of their decrees.

(vii) It is suggested that the function of the courts should be conciliatory and not adjudicatory and it is only when the nyaya panchayats fail to bring an amicable settlement, the regular  court will entertain their cases. The large number of settlements which the panchayat courts are able to bring about are due, in a considerable measure, to the authority to adjudicate which they now possess.

The mere fact that taking the matter to the regular court could result in delay and expense to the opposite party will induce unscrupulous litigant not to agree to an amicable settlement. Some consideration of harassing the opposite party will persuade the litigant to resort to regular courts if the jurisdiction of the panchayat courts is made concurrent with them. Thus, the nyaya panchayats should be invested with adjudicatory and exclusive jurisdiction.

The Law Commission in its 114th Report (1986), has presented a new model for establishment of “gram nyayalayas”. The model is based on the fusion of legal expertise with lay elements. A gram panchayat should consist of a panchayati raj judge (a legally trained person) and two lay judges. The judge will deal with questions of law arising in disposal of disputes, and the lay judges would bring in the wealth of local customs, traditions and knowledge of village problems. Lawyers will be permitted to appear. No court fee should be levied. The nyayalaya is to follow a simple procedure to dispose of cases and neither the Civil Code nor the Evidence Act is to be applied.


There seems to be no escape from some form of nyaya panchayats in the immediate future. It is not possible for any State government because of financial constraints to provide a system of courts manned by trained judges to cover the villages.

Today, justice is urban based. This situation needs to be corrected by taking justice near to the door steps of the people otherwise justice will continue to be denied to large numbers of poor people. Therefore, to provide a semblance of justice, nyaya panchayats in some form have to be created on the basis of participation by the people. Recently the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution of India provided a constitutional status to the village panchayats. This augurs well for the future of nyaya panchayats.

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