Shishir Bail


Legal reform attempts in India have frequently grappled with the problem of providing access to justice to rural litigants. In the early years of the Indian republic, the now infamous Nyaya Panchayats were tasked with this responsibility. These institutions were motivated by a desire to recreate an ‘indigenous’, panchayat based model of dispute resolution, but had more or less died out by the late 1970s. In 2008, the Parliament of India made a renewed attempt to address this problem through the passage of the Gram Nyayalaya Act, intended to result in the setting up of over 5,000 Gram Nyayalayas across the country. This article compares these two institutions to see whether Gram Nyayalayas make the same mistakes as their ill-fated forebears, or whether they do in fact represent a new approach to the problem of access to justice for rural litigants in India. This analysis reveals that Gram Nyayalayas differ substantially from Nyaya Panchayats, and in fact share far more similarities with the formal court system than to any poorly specified ideas of indigenous dispute resolution.