NEW DELHI: Can the community-based justice system be accorded legal sanctity? A parliamentary committee has suggested that the tribal judicial system as practised in a few pockets of the Northeast be given legal sanctity and treated as courts with regular salaries and emoluments to the officers who serve them.
With the tribal population dominant in the Northeast, the standing committee on law and justice, headed by E M Sudarsana Natchiappan, said most of the communities mentioned in the Sixth Schedule Area prefer the tribal justice system.
The system involves minimal procedure and ensures timely delivery of justice. The panel also suggested this system be integrated with the mainstream.
The committee argued that these courts in the Northeast are headed by tribal chiefs and are assisted by village elders. Due to the multiplicity of tribal groups, the customary practices vary from one tribal group to another. “As the entire system is oral in tradition, it leaves wide room for discretion to the chiefs during the justice delivery system, sometimes leading to award of different punishment for crime of similar nature,” the committee said.
A few attempts have been made in Nagaland among Ao and Zelang tribes and in Assam among Bodos to document and codify their customary laws. The Parliamentary committee said that tribal justice system needs to be brought by separate legislation in the Parliament with liberty to states to amend.
Such laws should give institutional support in the name of Tribal Justice Court system, with flexibility of appointing a presiding officer and staff from existing personnel without insisting on tenure, age, education. The salary and facilities should be equal to first class magistrate-cum-civil judge.