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Despatches from India - Week 3

The Collector (Head of the Collectorat) has the authority to resolve minor grievances or forward Alternative Dispute Resolution
them on to the relevant government departments. By going through the Collectorat, disputants are Following on from generalised discussion of court more likely to have their grievance both heard alternatives in Mumbai, the second part of the trip provided concrete exposure to village-level dispute resolution. As mentioned briefly in last One of our main criticisms of alternative dispute week’s dispatch, traditional panchayats provided resolution in India is the lack of accountability and communities with local level government and a procedures to document decisions. The result is a system the flies below the formal courts and is unable to contribute to meaningful law reforms or Our preliminary research found that the judicial raise awareness of recurring disputes and village arm of panchayats was largely defunct due to a chronic lack of power and authority within the legal system. However after discussion with the However the new system of Public Hearings, local people it is clear that panchayats remain the introduced in the state of Madya Pradesh just five primary body for resolving disputes in the village. months ago, demands a monthly connection with Furthermore, to seek help or redress externally the Chief Minister of the State. Each Collectorate brings great shame to the village and negative participates in a joint video conference with the consequences from the panchas (panchayat Minister where the work of the Hearings is resolved onscreen. This ensures that Collectors This is significant for two reasons. Firstly the are accountable, efficient and resolving disputes decision making ie. Archaic truth tests, application of residual prejudices and little option for appeal, In addition to Public Hearings held in the main are continuing outside the sight and control of the towns, the Collector visits smaller villages to hold hearings and disputants may also electronically enter their grievances on a dedicated website. Whilst judicial reforms busily attempt to improve Responses to both in-person and electronic the courts and Lok Adalat system, panchayats complaints are required within 15 days or the are left untouched. Seen as a relic of the past, their true status in many villages is either ignored or unknown. Secondly, the moral obligation on Finally records are kept of all Collectorate village people to take their disputes to the decisions which are then uploaded onto a panchayat also extends to the acceptance of database for State Officials involved in the decisions even if the outcome is unfair or as has Department of Public Grievances. Whilst these innovations respond to many of the concerns relating to alternative dispute resolution, the fact Whilst in Bandhgarh we were also able to visit the remains that for many village people the shame District Collectorate;, a state government body and consequence of approaching the Collectorate responsible for, among other things, resolving instead of the panchayat is not worth the risk. Therefore, as with many government introduced The Collecotorate theoretically offers disputants a schemes in this area, Collectorates do not tackle third avenue for dispute resolution. Disputants the source of the problem leaving villagers may approach the village panchayat, Lok Adalat struggling with the substandard status quo. in the nearest town or the Collectorate based on the type of dispute. In reality, as referenced above, for many villagers the panchayat remains the only genuine option. Regardless of this the Collectorate holds a Public Hearing (or Jan Sunawai) every Tuesday that is crammed full of


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