PYUTHAN: One of the most impressive differences people have started experiencing after the introduction of the federal system in the country is the accessibility to justice.
Local levels have been striving to make people feel the change of system by focusing on the most imminent facilities of the public like development, health and education facilities and ensuring access to justice.
The expansion of judicial or quasi-judicial service has ended the trouble people had to make to reach the police or court seeking reconciliation on the disputes related to boundary, transactions and family conflict.
The judicial committee established at each local level tries to reconcile the disputing parties.
When reconciliation fails, they give verdicts. The issues that get unresolved reach to the police or court.
The Constitutional Provisions
Article 217 of the Constitution of Nepal 2015 hails that some disputes can be resolved by establishing the judiciary committee established at the local levels. The Local Government Operation Act, 2017 has already been enforced.
The act has the provisions of a three-member judicial committee at each local level. The committee is led by the Deputy Mayor of the respective local levels. Besides the Deputy Mayor who heads the committee, there are two members elected by the respective municipal councils.
The judicial committee reconciles or settles the disputes or cases related to land, the share of parental property, boundary disputes, etc.
The jurisprudence of Judicial Committee
The coordinator and the members of the judicial committee exercise the jurisprudence of the committee.
The local levels are required to maintain the record of the documents related to the reconciliation or settlement of the disputes by the judicial committee of the respective rural municipality or the municipality.
The annual details of the activities executed through the judicial committee have to be presented to the rural/municipal council through the mayor of the respective level.
Local Governance Operation Act, 2017 grants the local judicial committee the right to reconcile or settle disputes related to issues such as border/boundary of land, dams, ditches or distribution and use water; damage to other’s crops, pastureland, and green fodder and fuelwood.
Likewise, other issues include unpaid wages; lost or found of pets and domestic animals; not caring or nurturing elderly citizens; not feeding or educating minor children or spouses; house rent or rent facility with amount up to twenty-five hundred thousand annually; planting trees affecting other’s property or house; leaking or throwing water from one’s house or balcony to other’s house, land or public road; and not leaving the area of land to be left as per the law while constructing a house with a window towards the land of the immediate neighbor.
Similarly, restricting the use or causing obstruction to a road being used publicly since ancient times even though it is under the right or ownership of any individual; way out for cattle to pasture for grazing cattle, drain, canal, pond, rest place, cremation site, religious site or any other public location; and other disputes designated by the federal or provincial law to be resolved by the local level are also included.
Most cases related to domestic violence
According to the local level deputy chiefs of Pyuthan, no one was treated unfairly in the case. Judging by the details of the three local levels of Pyuthan, most of the cases in the district have not come to the Judicial Committee and most of the cases are related to domestic disputes.
Judicial committees in Pyuthan, which has nine local levels, including two municipalities and seven villages, have not received many complaints. The issues before the Judicial Committee have been resolved through judicial adjudication and conciliation.
The Deputy Mayors who head the Judicial Committee claim that the cases are settled through representation and reconciliation ensuring justice is for everyone.
The details show that three local levels of Pyuthan do not have much pressure on the cases. Most of the cases registered in the committee are related to domestic violence.
Pyuthan Municipality receives 22 cases in three years
In terms of population, Pyuthan Municipality is the largest of nine local levels in the Pyuthan district. Its population is nearly thirty-nine thousand.
According to Shanta Acharya, Deputy Mayor and coordinator of the judicial committee of the municipality, the committee received 22 cases in the past three years.
According to Deputy Mayor Acharya, most of the cases are related to encroachment of boundary, the damage of crops by the cattle, negligence towards the care of the elderly people, husband assaulting wife, etc. related to domestic violence.
Out of 22 cases the committee received 18 are settled through reconciliation. Two cases related to the share of parental property were discussed thoroughly in the committee but had to be sent to the court due to the lack of jurisprudence of the committee. And the other two cases of divorce reached the court.
“We cannot compel the parties to reconcile forcefully, we try our best to settle the dispute convincing both parties,” Acharya said, “And our attempt has been successful.”
She regarded the provisions of settling the issues through reconciliation and representation unanimously as an advantage in resolving the issue.
Although the judicial committees of other districts complain that they are unable to perform efficiently due to insufficient power, Acharya shared she has never experienced it till now.
Two complaints during lockdown
As a measure to curb the coronavirus pandemic, the government enforced a lockdown from March 24 to September 21.
As in other districts, in Pyuthan also the local levels suspended all other services except the most essential ones. Yet there was the provision to get their complaints or cases registered.
However, Pyuthan Municipality got only two cases registered. The judicial committee is facilitating reconciliation between both parties of the litigations related to a land dispute.
Saurmarani Rural Municipality sees most cases of domestic conflict
Mina Kumari Somei, Deputy Mayor and Coordinator of Judicial Committee of Sarumarani Rural Municipality feels reducing the cases of divorce and domestic violence a great challenge in her municipality.
“We find people taking to divorce over minor disputes and coming to us requesting use for facilitation for divorce,” Deputy Mayor Somei shared her experience, “We call both husband and wife aside and try to remind them the merits of going together and many get ready for reconciliation.”
Sarumarani Rural Municipality witnessed 21 cases for settlement in FY 2019/20. Out of them, 18 were reconciled by the local judicial committee successfully.
The Judicial Committee could not settle two cases related to a land dispute and one related financial transaction. Out of total cases, nine were related to domestic conflict and violence.
Likewise, out of nine cases registered in the fiscal year 2018/19, four were settled successfully; two were repealed and three are still under consideration.
Among those nine cases, there were two cases each related to a financial transaction, road expansion, and domestic conflict. Similarly, there was one case related to looking after the dependent and elderly, and loss respectively.
Similarly, out of 12 cases registered in the committee in FY 2017/18, eight were settled by the committee.
Among the settled cases there were three including one each related to transactions and road expansion. Likewise, there were four including two each related to wages, defamation and property and there were three related to domestic violence.
Mandavi Rural Municipality sees more cases of domestic conflict
Compared to other local levels of Pyuthan, Mandavi Rural Municipality got more cases registered during the lockdown.
This local-level got 19 cases registered during the lockdown. Most of these cases are related to domestic conflict and eight are resolved by the committee.
Out of these eight cases, six were related to the conflict between husband and wife and two were related to the conflict between the villagers.
According to Muga Pun, the Deputy Mayor and Coordinator of Judicial Committee of Mandavi Rural Municipality, four of the rest cases have been sent to the court and seven others are still under consideration in the committee.
Four cases were sent to court and two were sent to the police during the lockdown period. Six cases are in the phase of representation and reconciliation.
She pointed out that 90% of the cases registered during the lockdown period were either related to gender-based violence or domestic violence.
“There are many cases which started from a minor misunderstanding and reached to divorce during lockdown period,” Deputy Mayor Pun recounted.
Pun added that out of 65 cases registered in Mandavi Rural Municipality in 2019/20, nineteen were registered during the three months of lockdown.
Pun pointed out that after the males returned from India and other countries, the cases of domestic conflicts increased suddenly.
Lockdown impact in the cases
Out of three local levels of Pyuthan included in this article, two municipalities saw a few cases in the period from March 24 to July 21.
Mandavi Rural Municipality saw more cases in the period. Although there could have been many incidents in the villages, only a few got registered.
“There could have been many cases of domestic conflict, we feel many were settled at home, few came to us as there were not many cases from outside people feel there were few cases in the time,” Shanta Acharya, the Mayor of Pyuthan Municipality said.
However, Deputy Mayor of Mandavi Rural Municipality Muga Pun says that the people who had the genuine problems knocked on the door of the judicial committee as the committee was accessible all the time.
“We received 19 cases registered during the lockdown period, those who have genuine problems, they have come to us, we were accessible,” she said.
Access to justice is increasing: Devkota
Federalism and Local Governance expert Dr. Khim Lal Devkota lauds federalism for the increase of access to justice.
“Prior to this system, the victims did not know where to go to seek justice, the district court was the only place for them to knock for justice and it was also not much accessible from the remote areas,” Dr. Devkota said, “Besides the distance, there were the problems like illiteracy and economic backwardness as going to district headquarters had much to do with all such factors. Now, the judiciary committees in the local levels have addressed all their problems.”
He reiterates that federalism has empowered people with resources, enhanced women empowerment, and increased access to justice.
He thinks that the Judicial Committee can be regarded as a type of court as those who are not satisfied with the decision of the judicial committee can go to the court for review.
Dr. Devkota applauds the role of federalism in making justice accessible at the local level.
“Considering the positive impact the activities of judicial committee decisions have made, we should take pride in the federalism the country attained, the committees should keep up this spirit ahead as well,” he expressed satisfaction at the role of Judicial Committees.