ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Accessing Injustice: The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008

The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 moves Indian citizens with small claims, who live in rural areas, out of the adversarial system with its procedural guarantees. As a statute with limited procedural guarantees to adjudicate allegedly small claims, including those that implicate a plethora of social welfare legislations, this Act compromises the promises of the Constitution.

We are grateful to Bipin Aspatwar, Marc Galanter, Vikramaditya Khanna, Madhav Khosla, and Jayanth Krishnan for their incisive comments.

Equality and justice are indisputably two key facets of the idea of a mo d ern, democratic and constitutionadhering India. The principles of equality and justice are realised by the State apparatus through the business of administration of justice. India’s justice system is characterised by systemic problems, including corruption, delays, pendency, increasing costs, limited legal aid, and a lack of appropriately trained lawyers and judges.

When confronted with the many problems of the legal system, the government’s response has been not to invest in and fix a broken system, instead it has responded by moving out of the adversarial system with its procedural guarantees, those who have the least voice and use it minimally – Indian citizens, who live in rural areas, with small claims, both civil and criminal in nature. The government does this with the passage of the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 (hereinafter referred to as the Act). This Act perpetuates the phenomenon of two Indias – that of the better resourced urban citizen who can afford and has access to the courts. And, the other India of the impoverished – the more disconnected rural citizen, who gets primary access to forums that focus primarily on disposing of their claims, minus the applications of essential safeguards of the legal process – lawyers, appeals, procedural protections and evidentiary requirements.

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