In this blog, the esteemed author has wrote about the access to justice being hampered by the poverty and social situation of the people in rural area. The author has provided an unique view point to the issue. Read on to know in details.
Even though the Traditional concept of "access to justice" is access to courts of law, Legal Aid is a concept that has slowly started gaining name in the maket as a strategy to provide justice for all the classes of people. People find court as a place where the justice is meted out. But, nowadays the courts have become inaccessible due to poverty, social and economic backwardness, illiteracy and lack of knowledge on procedural formalities.
It can be seen that even in Vedic times, India has been known to be an innovative creator of dispute resolution methods for speedy and effective justice. In due course, disputes were settled by village elders and subsequently they were called “Panchayats”. As the nexus between poverty and access to the court system has been tacit over many years, the development of legal aid services provided a help to the poor to ensure equitable access to justice. The concept of legal aid further got broadened by effectively providing legal education, legal information, legal identity and legal empowerment to the downtrodden.
While comparing to court mechanism Alternative Dispute resolution methods help in access to faster justice in today’s fast moving scenario. The concept of Lok Adaalat and Nyaya Panchayats help in resolving disputes without any Court procedure or formalities. If various mechanisms under Alternative Dispute resolution are made accessible to poor and indigent groups, we can avoid the various unfair activities and delay caused to their issues.
Legal Aid System in India
The evolution of legal aid in India is considered as a successful progression of the ancient system of dispute resolution. All the stages of progress give a framework of access to justice as a basic fundamental right as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 39A which was incorporated through 1976 amendment which mandates a mechanism for delivering legal aid. The main social objective of Article 39A is equal justice and free legal aid . This can be implemented by suitable legislation or by formulating schemes for free legal aid (1).
Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908(2) introduced the Settlement of disputes outside the Court with the object of providing speedy justice. As section 89 provides for various mechanism of Alternate Dispute Resolution like Arbitration, Conciliation, Judicial Settlement through Lok Adalat or Mediation.
The enactment of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and creation of hierarchy of legal service institutions at various levels helped in providing legal aid to wide range of poor people. The legal institutions created under the Act, namely the National Legal Services Authorities (NALSA) (3) , State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) (4) , District Legal Service Authorities (DLSA)(5) and Taluka Legal Services Committees (TLSCs) (6) along with the Supreme Court and the High Court’s Legal Services Committees assist people in settling disputes and creating legal awareness.
The functions of Lok Adalat (People's Court) is also remarkable, it has reduced the work of courts where pending or pre-litigation cases are referred to the Lok Adalath for amicable settlement of disputes. Legal Services Authority Act 1987 has recognised the working of Lok Adalat and the award made by them is regarded to be the decree of the Court. (7)
The plans under National Legal Service Authority Act, to set up Legal Aid clinics in all villages on the lines of primary health centres is a welcome step in administration of justice (8). Legal Aid Clinics are managed by paralegal volunteers and lawyers who are ready to serve the poor with a sense of commitment, sensibility and sensitiveness. The Legal Aid Clinics will be located in the village panchayat which is easily accessible to the local village people. These Legal Aid Clinics will provide inexpensive machinery for rendering legal services like legal advice, drafting of petitions, notices, forms, replies, applications, opinions and all other documents of legal importance.
Even though statute recommends for such an institutional problem solving scenario, law college students are playing a vital role in conducting legal aid clinics in remote villages. There are certain law colleges which consider this as part of their curricular activity and help the needy people through Legal Aid Clinics. The Students of Law colleges taking part in Legal Aid work provide the basic services as mentioned in the scheme.
These works are not enough to provide administration of justice in disputes which arise between village people. It can be seen that most of the disputes in villages are a result of minor conflict, land related problems, cremation grounds, water disputes, cattle grazing etc. If such disputes are not taken into consideration promptly it will generate into violent clashes in the village people.
The Government of Maharashtra is the first such state where steps were taken to regulate and ensure that petty cases should not transform into larger issues. The Mahatma Gandhi Dispute Free Village Mission(9) which was launched in the state of Maharashtra from 15th August 2007 has become a reincarnation of the Village Panchayat dispute resolving mechanism. In this trial initiative police official, police Jawans, Grama Panchayats were used and no help is sought from lawyers, Judges or any judicial authorities. This rework of traditional method of dispute redressal mechanism initiated by Maharashtra gained so much impetus that there was amicable settlement of lakhs of disputes without approaching the courts.
Application of Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanism at Village level
Alternative Dispute Resolution is considered as the new avenue to settle disputes without delay and procedural lock downs. But still, Rural people are facing problems with regard to dispute resolution. These legal service institutions are available in semi urban and urban areas which makes it difficult for the villagers. There are various disputes in villages which lay in Courts for years like field border disputes, partition or declaration cases etc. Legal Aid Clinics and Para legal workers will not be in a position to scrutinise the legal documents and pass a settlement order.
We must turn back to the age oldPanchayat system, where disputant parties were bound by the settlement order of the Panchayat members and there was amicability between the peoples. Such system of village administration will solve many issues faced by the poor and indigent groups.
Nowadays, Lok Adalats play an important role in dispute solving mechanism in urban and semi urban places. Thousands of cheque bounce cases are being solved in Lok Adalats within a short period of time. This mechanism brings administration of justice without unnecessary delay. Alternate Dispute Resolution concept also comprises of mediation, conciliation, negotiation and counselling mechanism. If an arbitrator or mediator or conciliator is appointed for settlement of legal disputes, then there will be proper perusal of evidences, documents, witnesses from the parties. Further by giving legal recognition to the settlement reached by the parties through any of these mechanism the people will have a fear to abide by the award or settlement. If we follow the same mechanisms to the disputes occurring in village at the first instance itself, rural people will remain close to the administration of justice. Thus it is recommended that Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanism should be used as the first platform to access to justice and failure of which can only be presented to the Court.
Access to justice through Alternate Dispute resolution methods provided at the root level will help in the administration of justice. The rural community can always be benefited from resolving disputes which affect their peace and harmony. Thus if people approach the Alternate mechanism before going to the Court then the burden of the Court with backlog of cases can be reduced. Thus justice delivered through the Alternate mechanism always holds good for a better living standard in the society.
1. Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1983 SC 378.
2. Section 89 of Civil Procedure Code – “Settlement of disputes outside the Court”.
3. Section 3 of The Legal Services Authority Act 1987.
4. Section 6.
5. Section 9.
6. Section 11 A.
7. Section 19.
8. Section 12.
Ramanya Gayathri. M
Assistant Professor, SASTRA Deemed To Be University.
(Image used for representational purpose only.)