With around half a million cases pending across Kashmir, Dehi Adalat Bill 2013 is going to ease the burden for sure. But can these Village Courts handle sensitive cases like dowry, crime, riots etc., remains to be seen. Saima Bhat reports
Once the Jammu and Kashmir Dehi Adalats Bill, 2013 was passed in the recently held autumn session of State Assembly, the minister for law, Mir Saifullah recalled his first hand experience of the long pending cases in the courts.
“When I had entry in this profession, I got a case which was already 45 years old then. 20 lawyers, who were the councils for the case from time to time, had already died. The petitioner also died last year but the case is still going on,” says Saifullah.
As per the official figures around 2.73450 lakh criminal and civil cases, 82306 cases are pending in the Jammu and Srinagar wings of high court and 191144 in other district and munsif courts across the state.
Dehi Adalats or Village Courts are being set up in the state to speed up justice delivery system at the grass root level and to speed up the judicial system.
Dehi Adalats will work on the same pattern as of Gram Nyayalayas, which is a centrally sponsored scheme but in Jammu and Kashmir the name has been changed while as rest of the functioning will remain the same.
Gram Nyayalayas were formed after the conference of chief ministers of states and Chief Justices of High Courts was held in August 2009, to provide speedy and inexpensive justice to rural areas.
In the initial go, the bill seeks to establish 22 Dehi Adalats in all districts across the state at an expenditure of Rs 333.29 lakh per annum and later they will be set up at block levels.
“Ideally these Adalats should be present in each block depending upon the tendency of the cases in a particular area but presently Finance department has asked us to start it as one Adalat in one district and later on we will be adding more,” says Mohammad Ashraf, Assistant Director Library in Law Department.
He adds, “Presently people have to travel some 20 kms to reach their tehsil headquarters, but after the formation of these Dehi Adalats, justice will be brought at the grass root levels.” And most importantly they will be mobile as well.
The High Court may confer upon a Dehi Adalat, the powers and functions of a judicial magistrate of the first class – all the powers of a civil court or a munsif court.
The head of a Dehi Adalat, Aadil shall not be less than a first class judicial magistrate – a law knowing person, may be a law graduate and he will be selected under the same procedure as a Munsif gets selected.
Such Adalats will exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction in the manner and to the extent provided under the Act. In the beginning ,all district courts or the court of sessions, will transfer all the civil and criminal cases, pending before the courts subordinate to it.
The Adalats have been giving overriding effect, authority to override or reject, of Act in criminal trial and most importantly the cases will be heard on summary trials, on daily basis.
As per the bill the criminal cases up to the imprisonment of two years and fine up to Rs 20, 000 will be dealt in the Dehi Adalats. Ashraf says, “Such Adalats are village courts and in villages the cases are not of high level, they mostly revolve around smaller local issues.”
The State Legal Services Authority, constituted under section 3 of the Jammu and Kashmir Legal Services Authorities Act 1977, has been ordered to prepare a panel of advocates and they will be pleading the cases.
In Rural areas, the advocates from Legal Aid Clinics are better known as Para Legal Volunteers (PLVs) who will aware locals about their rights and these PLVs will be pleading the cases on behalf of villagers and they will be working free of cost for them.
As per the bill, it will be duty of Dehi Adalat to make efforts for conciliation and settlement of civil disputes.
Under the Legal Aid Clinics Mediation centers were also formed at district levels. After the formation of Dehi Adalat’s the cases will be tried to get solved as per litigation stage (in Mediation cells) and if not solved then they will be shifted to the Dehi Adalats, informs Ashraf.
As per the bill the Dehi Adalat shall dispose of the civil cases within a time period of six months and case will be heard on daily basis and in case of a criminal case, the time period will depend upon the number of witnesses.
FOR the chief opposition party, PDP, the concept of Dehi Adalats seems to be good but Choudhary Zulfikar Ali, a lawmaker suggests that there is deficiency in the law itself. He says there are many conflicts in the bill but the government has not considered their suggestions.
He argues when all the cases will be shifted to the Dehi Adalats then what will remain in the jurisdiction of the Munsif courts and Judicial Magistrate Courts, which are already present in the different districts.
Ali was among a few lawmakers who wished to make some amendments in the said bill. He says when the Justice Verma Committee has asked to make more stringent laws for the protection of women then why should J&K state shift the domestic violence related cases to the Dehi Adalats.
“If domestic violence related cases will come under Dehi Adalats, I fear people might get more involved in such cases, people will take it very leniently.” Otherwise the domestic violence cases are taken up at the sessions’ level.
“It is not only family disputes but there are certain incidents like dowry deaths, burn cases, and acid attack cases as well but by doing this they are only going to weaken the law,” Ali says.
He adds further that offences that come under law and order problems have also been kept in the list for Dehi Adalats but such problems should be dealt stringently. “The Kistwar violence is not an old issue, and we all know how difficult it was then to maintain the situation.”
For Ali the constitution of Dehi Adalats is also problematic. As per the bill the Adalats will be working in consultation with the High Court, but Ali questions ‘what High courts will do when they are already overburdened.’
He opines Adalats should work in consultation with the Session courts and Aadil’s should be selected under proper system through board.