We all know that there is a stark divide in India – in the way in which cities work, and the way in which rural areas run. On one hand is the ‘urbanized’ culture spread across various cities and metros where government organizations are responsible for running them, and on the other, the ‘rurality’ is marked by what is popularly known as ‘Panchayat Raj’!
The higher authorities, and the judicial system is so overburdened with other ‘more important’ matters that villages have been often sidelined in the overall gamut (even though ‘India lives in its villages’). Dealing with local matters at a national level does not feature in the list of priorities, and so, the ‘villagers’ decided to start their own dispute resolution mechanisms – their very own courts! This is what gave birth to the ‘Panchayat’, a group of powerful people, their head referred to as ‘Sarpanch’.
The Panchayat is entrusted with various responsibilities, a very important one being resolving disputes that arise among them (Nyaya Panchayat).
On one side, where the Indian courts are burdened with procedures, which even the lawyers have difficulty in understanding (forget the disputants), the Nyaya Panchayats run on ‘simplicity’. They tend to remain procedurally as simple as possible, without compromising on ‘Principles of Natural Justice’. They have been traditionally practicing what is today known as ‘ADR’ (Alternative Dispute Resolution). For decades, these institutions have been a very successful informal method of dispute resolution with flexibility in procedures and rules – Panchayats have been arbitrating on property disputes, torts and even criminal offences like murder and rape since time immemorial.
The functioning is simple – the dispute is taken to the Panchayat, both the parties are given adequate opportunities to present the case and a common ground is arrived it, swiftly and efficiently. This is then accepted by both the parties, causing a ‘complete closure’ of the matter.
The courts are so ‘well-refined’ and ‘structured’ that it takes about 13 years on an average to reach this ‘complete closure’. Whereas, the supposedly backward villagers can do this is less than 13 months, ensuring that both the parties are satisfied to the best possible extent.
In this one aspect, I truly wish that urban dwellers ‘copy’ the villagers and develop a local mechanism to resolve disputes, rather than the reverse!