Friday, December 19, 2008

Village Courts Bill Historic: Dr. JP

Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today termed the passage of the Gram Nyayalaya Bill 2008 by the Rajya Sabha as historic in that it seeks to restore the culture of the rule of law which is becoming gradually extinct.

Addressing the media, Dr. JP pointed out that poor rural and urban people have not been able to access courts because of barriers posed by costs, distance, language and procedural difficulties. Under the proposed legislation, judges of the rank of first class judicial magistrates will themselves go to the people, conduct the proceedings in the local language and dispose of the cases on the spot. The absence of such a system for disposal of small offences or disputes at the grassroots level has emboldened perpetrators of small offences to mature into big time offenders. It has also made perjury (lying under oath) all pervasive. The advent of grama nyayalayas will reduce, if not eliminate, perjury as the guilty will think twice before lying in the presence of co-villagers.

Dr. JP recalled that the Lok Satta movement had been seeking the formation of local courts ever since it took birth in August 1997. It had in consultation with jurists and other experts in Andhra Pradesh prepared a draft Bill in February 2003. The National Advisory Council, of which Dr. JP was a member, accepted the draft Bill prepared by the Lok Satta in 2005. The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill yesterday. Dr. JP hoped the Lok Satta too would adopt the Bill soon and make justice accessible to people at their doorstep.

Dr. JP referred to the unconscionably large number of cases pending in courts all over the country and said, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. He cited how the killer of Jyotirmoy, a Telugu student in Birmingham, was sentenced to life imprisonment within seven months of the offence taking place whereas it took more than seven years for the court to award its punishment in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination case.

Referring to the Pranahita-Chevella lift irrigation scheme, which Chief Minister Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy has been defending as essential to turn Telangana green, Dr. JP demanded that the Central Water Commission review all the big lift irrigation projects taken up by the Andhra Pradesh Government. Even according to the Chief Minister’s own admission, the capital cost of irrigating an acre under the Pranahita-Chevella scheme costs Rs.2.5 lakh. The recurring expenditure of supplying water per year works out to Rs.30,000, not to take into account the farmer’s investment in raising a crop. How could agriculture be remunerative in such a context, asked Dr. JP.

Dr. JP said that the Pranahita-Chevella would be a white elephant and not a “Kamadhenuvu”, as is being claimed by the Chief Minister. If the same amount was spent on tapping water in streams and rivulets, and on small lift irrigation projects, 20 lakh acres can be irrigated.

Dr. JP said the skewed priorities of the Andhra Pradesh Government could be gauged from the fact that a woman had tried to sell her just-delivered baby at Hanamkonda as she could not take care of it and yet earn her livelihood as a daily wage worker. The mother of two children had been deserted by her drunkard husband.

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