Thursday, January 24, 2008

Villageward, ho!

Striking lawyers and boycott of courts are old news. Striking medicos is the latest thing. Thankfully, they have cried halt to their protests. Doctors of Tamil Nadu and Delhi, from among 262 government and private medical colleges that turn out about 28,000 doctor-graduates every year, seem to be more averse to taking to compulsory service in rural areas than their counterparts studying elsewhere in the country. Kerala government has already enforced compulsory rural service after their minimum 5 ½ year stint in medical colleges for doctors, for the last 3 years. Striking students said that it made no sense to send tyros like them to villages. Why not despatch the well trained, experienced doctors in government service to the villages, they ask? Albert Schweitzer, a German doctor spent most of his life working in remote Africa. The renowned doctor and author, who wrote by the name, A.J. Cronin ( have you read The Citadel?) spent practising among the mining communities and his novel was the basis for establishing the UK’s National Health Service. They are all foreign examples; why remind them, do you say?

Look at the several ways by which people have to be sent to villages. There is no natural lure to the idyllic villages of India. Looks like, the compulsion has to be secured through legislation. Karnataka issued State Civil Services (Regulation of Transfer of Teachers) Ordinance in 2006, which contained, inter alia provision for compulsory teaching service in rural schools and Pre-University classes for a minimum period of 2 years. The Union Government brought a bill in 2005 for Compulsory and Priority Electricity Supply to Rural areas, Agriculture and Cottage Industries that aims to bulk-supply power to boost agricultural production and employment generation. It is a way of holding out an olive branch for the rural folk to stay back without proliferating to towns and cities. Recent years have witnessed unprecedented interest in micro-credit and micro-finance especially because of the facility of collateral-less group lending. In fact NABARD has successfully generated the largest micro-finance networking the world by linking the various Self-Help Groups with the banks, called the SHG-Bank Linkage programme.

We, too, as lawyers, have been shown the way to villages. The 114 Law Commission Report, 1986 envisages the establishment of Gram Nyayalays and states that Article 39A of the Constitution of India provides the foundational basis. The report points out that Article 40 which directs the State to take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government, has to be appreciated afresh in the light of the mandate of the new article 39A. Strengthening the institution of Panchayats and empowering people at the grass-root level to resolve their disputes amicably would, according to Justice S.B.Sinha, solve many of the problems that are faced by conventional justice dispensation machinery in its attempts to percolate to the lowest levels. This would provide a solution to the problems of access to those living in remote regions. Certain states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh are reported to have already made provisions for establishing Nyaya Panchayats. In Tamil Nadu, decentralisation of civil and criminal courts have helped established the courts at taluk levels. We have no formal system of disputes resolution in villages, except that Tamil films show the Panchyat President seated under a large shady tree on a high pedestal surrounded by his cohorts handing down rough and ready justice. They will marry the rapist to the victim; parade the thief on a donkey; dot the out-law with black and red spots of paint on the body to humiliate and in fact do everything that is anathema to justice and fair play. The film-like , larger-than-life panchyati needhi often borders on rowdy-justice that goes by the sobriquet katta panchayat. The legislature has even taken note of the existence of this ugly institution and has enacted a law to punish individuals who don this role for enforcing money claims at usurious rates of interest.

Do you fancy the law ministry to suggest to law students or lawyers to do compulsory rural service in villages for 2 years, like they have plans for doctors? It may not be a bad idea, given the tough living conditions in the city and the competitive edge that you may have to encounter, what with the new talents from the National law schools and big-time law firms flaunting their professional prowess in cities!

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