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  <%-- Page Title--%> Issue No 145 <%-- End Page Title--%>  

June 20, 2004

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Legal limitations impedes Gram Adalat to be effectual

In 1976 Gram Adalat law was issued under auspices of Union Parishad to settle minor disputes at the village level. That's why it is known as 'Gram (village) Adalat (Court) Act 1976'. Although 29 years have passed since its formation, unfortunately the law is still ineffective. This is due to legal limitation. There are some other problems also that hinder proper implementation of the law. Majority of the people living in rural area are not even aware of the law. Even many of the UP chairmen have very little understanding of such an act. The government is also attentive enough in taking necessary steps to make the organisation more active and efficient. In such circumstances, the representatives of local government believe that gram adalat immediately needs institutional and judicial renovation to make the organisation convenient.

Gram adalat was formed to settle criminal and civil law suits at the village level. The law has bestowed an UP chairman or gram adalat chairman with the power of a third class magistrate. The court is comprised of 5 members including the chairman, 2 general members and 2 members selected by the complainant and defender. The judgement of the court will be validated with unanimous support or by majority of 4:1. No one can raise any question regarding the legality of the verdict. If the verdict is approved by majority of 3:2, the complainant or defender can again appeal to the magistrate court or civil court. Gram adalat has been given the authority to settle the criminal cases of legal disputes, illegal impediment, applying force unlawfully, threatening, drug addiction, rape, misappropriating property, forgery etc. It can also deal with the civil cases of collecting money under contract, release of illegally occupied properties, collecting compensation against damaged property, trespass of domestic animals in others property etc.

Gram adalat was established with an aim to give respite to the common rural people from legal hassle and to ensure easy access to legal assistance. The organisation was also intended to lessen liability on the district courts. However in practice nothing has been done as yet.

Until now the local chairman and members under the provision of village arbitration system issued in 1961 settle most of the frictions at village level. Investigation in several unions revealed that because of legal shortcoming, inadequacy of government allocation and unawareness of mass people, gram adalat is not being able to play a more effective role. The law says that if the complainant claims monetary compensation of less than 5 thousand taka, only then the case will be accepted by the gram adalat. However, in the present context, chairmen and members of UP consider the amount to be very insignificant. Moreover, government had cut off allocation to the local government and there is no separate funding for gram adalat either. Local government representatives provide fund personally for carrying out gram adalat activities.

Chairman of Umidpur union at Madaripur, Abdul Mannan said, "We cannot settle any other cases apart from minor scuffles, not even burglary, in gram adalat due to legal obstacles. Most monetary cases range from 10 to 20 thousand to lakh taka. But government law doesn't allow us to handle the cases. So we try to settle the cases by means of arbitrary system. In fact this law needs modification. Otherwise common people will be harassed more."

Asserting the positive aspects of gram adalat, chairman Abdul Mannan said, "Previously we settled almost all disputes by the arbitrary system. This year we began to settle some cases through gram adalat. The adalat comes sits every Thursday. Until now we have settled 25 cases. Most people can escape from trouble since gram adalat has begun to operate. They no more have to rush to Madaripur district town to file cases and to appoint lawyers. their legal costs have reduced. The most positive aspect of garm adalat is that the cases are resolved before they turn into bigger disputes."

Chairman of Dupchanchia sadar union in Bogra, Amedur Rahman opined that the minimum amount mentioned n the gram adalat law should be increased from 5 thousand taka to 5 lakh taka. This will be really convenient for the general people. Because if the change is done, no lawsuit other than murder cases will need to be sent to the district courts. As a result, the pressure on district courts will reduce and the legal process at district level will be accelerated."

Chairman of Hazipur union in Begumganj upazilla of NoakhaliAbul Kalam said, "5 thousand taka in 1976 was equal to 50 thousand taka of today. So amendment of gram adalat law is essential. From my previous experience, I saw many people fighting for justice year after year and losing everything. Now we are not allowing such incidents to take place again. If it can not be solved by gram adalat, we settle the case by arbitrary system."

Similar is the opinion of Abdul Latif Bepari of Rasti union of Madaripur sadar. He regretted that gram adalat is still in black and white. General people have no idea about this organisation, because in fact they do not get any benefits from this system. Chairmen and members also lack proper understanding of gram adalat. This is a vital problem. Government has never taken any awareness strides necessary to address the problem."


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