Fifty years after independence, the entire judicial system is on the verge of collapse. While the superior courts have earned praise from citizens for intervening in citizen’s concerns raised through public interest petitions, only those with resources or cunning can hope to get ordinary justice. In India congestion and delays are pervasive in administration of both civil and criminal justice. There are about 20 million cases pending in lower courts and another 3.2 million cases in high courts. Writ petitions in high courts take about 8-10 years and in some courts nearly 20 years for disposal.
The dockets of civil cases have been overcrowded and it may take years to get a trial on merit. In India, lack of judges has been historically cited as the main reason for court congestion and delays. Indeed, the number of judges per capita has been low compared to other countries. For instance, data for 30 selected countries from the World Bank Justice Sector at a Glance database indicate that in 2000 the average number of judges per 100,000 inhabitants was 6.38.The corresponding number for India is about 2.7 judges. In most cases, citizens have little hope of getting justice in their lifetime. Corruption and abuse of court processes are rampant.
The main reason for this state of affairs is that we are still wedded to the centralized judicial system based on colonial practices. The committee on Judi care headed by Justice P.N Bhagwati constituted by government of India made the following observation: •Present judicial system is expensive and dilatory so poor and disadvantaged do not have access to justice. •Due to ignorance and illiteracy people are unable to get advantage of legal system.
•Due to social disabilities and economic dependence people living in villages are helpless and are not assertive which places the judicial process out of their reach. •The proceedings of law courts are very formal. Often proceedings are conducted in a language which poor and illiterate people do not understand. •The courts still follow Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence; totally ignoring jurisprudence developed in India over ages. This system is not at all adapted to our socio-economic conditions and is wholly unsuited to our national genius .
Traditionally, village court settled village disputes. Deprived of this facility, the village community now suffers abuse, delays and high lawyer costs in local courts. Access to justice in India requires reforms that would enable ordinary people to invoke the remedies and protections of the law. It is common knowledge that litigation, civil or criminal, whichever party wins or loses, leaves a trail of bitterness and bad blood and tremendous financial loss for both, apart from protracted trials and resulting frustration. In Indian conditions, law and justice at the Panchayat level with a conciliatory methodology is an imperative necessity.
This can be only achieved by having a suitable forum for conciliation and adjudication involving little cost and no delay with an informal procedure conforming only to the requirements of natural justice where the key word would be justice rather than law. Decentralized justice in the above background found expression in the concept of Nyaya Panchayats incorporated in the Panchayat legislation of some states in the past. The Constitutional Amendments that gave birth to the new panchayats were, however, completely silent on the subject.