India Interior

Keeping peace in the village

Sarita Brara | Updated on August 10, 2019 Published on August 10, 2019

Troubleshooter Asha Pradhan along with other women. SARITA BRARA   -  Sarita Brara

Neen panchayat in Shimla district shows how disputes are resolved without moving court

In May this year, garbage was dumped by a hotel at the road head of Neen gram panchayat near the tourist resort of Naldehra in Shimla district. The Neen panchayat immediately called a meeting and discussed the issue. The hotel staff was summoned and a fine of ₹501 was imposed on the owners of the hotel.

The panchayat also wanted to lodge an FIR against the hotel. But the issue was resolved with the hotel promising not to dump garbage in future and offering to pay for hoardings on sanitation and cleanliness.

Situated in the midst of the pines and lush green, terraced fields of maize and seasonal vegetables, Neen gram panchayat is one of the most peaceful of panchayats where people live in harmony. But with over 380 families living across nine revenue villages that come under this gram panchayat, some minor incidents are bound to happen. Cases that come before the Neen Panchayat are few and far between and the effort is to reach a compromise, says the Panchayat Pradhan, Asha.

Domestic rows, property fights

The cases usually involve fights between couples, minor scuffles, disputes over passage between neighbours, a case or two of violent behaviour or straying of cattle.

The village panchayats have been given judicial powers to handle minor civil, criminal cases referred to them by the revenue courts. The rival parties plead their own case, and not through lawyers. The Panchayati Act provides for disposal of cases at the panchayat level so that the villagers do not have to waste their time, money and energy in litigation, and are not exploited by lawyers. The panchayats are supposed to resolve the cases in three months. Their decisions are considered ‘just’ because people generally know about the offences committed in the villages and there is less scope for fraud and manoeuvring.

One of the cases that came before the Neen Panchayat two months back involved friction between a couple, says Asha. A woman visited her parents without informing her husband, following a row. The husband filed an application before the panchayat, wanting separation from his wife over the issue. The couple was summoned by the panchayat and counselled by the Pradhan that the issue did not warrant a break in relationship. Ultimately, the fight was sorted out and now the couple lives happily, says Asha.

The cases that take time usually involve the use of hill passages or paths that come under the property of a family. Many a time, the Pradhan‘s tenure is over before it is amicably resolved and the case lingers on till the new panchayat head takes over.

In one such case, a person in Palog village under the Neen gram panchayat refused to allow a neighbour use of a path that happened to fall in his domain. The neighbour made a complaint about this to the panchayat. When both parties were adamant, the panchayat had to forward the case to Police. Later, however, a compromise was reached and the police complaint withdrawn.

Women groups to fore

A double MA in political science and Hindi, Asha also has the experience of working with the Association for Social Health in India for about three years. The endeavour of the panchayat is to settle cases through counselling or compromise so that nobody has to move courts. Asha says that if a case involves a woman, the effort is to resolve it through the ‘Sundaram Mahila Gram Sangathan’ they have formed involving 13 SHGs in the gram panchayats. This women organisation has formed seven committees on aspects such as sexual exploitation of women, education, health, social issues, bank linkages and poverty.

Fresh from a two-day training on judicial functions and powers, Asha says that she will try to see how issues can be resolved with the help of these committees before they even come before the panchayat.

They have already successfully handled one such case in the past. This was of a suspicious husband who kept following his wife around, thus neglecting the children and his work in the fields.

This was when the Sangathan stepped in. Asha, who is also secretary of the Sangathan, said the women members counselled the husband over three rounds, bringing him around to his folly, with happy results.

According to Additional Director, HP Panchayati Raj, Kewal Sharma, thematic training is organised from time to time but the fresh training such as the one Asha underwent has been undertaken in the wake of huge pendency of cases in the panchayats.

Sharma says that it was brought to the notice of the department that over 4,000 cases were pending before panchayats across the State, some for as long as 8-10 years. This, he says, defeats the very purpose of giving judicial powers to the panchayats, which is for early, transparent and easy disposal of cases.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on August 10, 2019

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