Village heads in J’khand’s Kolhan set to get judicial powers under a British rule still alive
Traditional tribal panchayat heads (Mankis) and village heads (Mundas) in Kolhan division of Jharkhand will soon get judicial powers back under the British-era Wilkinson Rule of 1837, which no legislation in Parliament has scrapped or amended to date
Traditional tribal panchayat heads (Mankis) and village heads (Mundas) in Kolhan division of Jharkhand will soon get judicial powers back under the British-era Wilkinson Rule of 1837, which no legislation in Parliament has scrapped or amended to date.
On a trial basis, West Singhbhum district administration has decided to transfer two civil dispute cases to Nyay Manch (judicial forum), officials said on Monday, adding that the two villages for the pilot project were yet to be chosen.
Chief minister Hemant Soren, during his trip to Chaibasa in West Singhbhum in February this year, had announced to make Nyay Manch functional again under the Wilkinson Rule and directed the deputy commissioner to draft a Bill and rules for the same.
“A meeting with Manki-Munda Samiti, superintendent of police, lawyers and other stakeholders on Saturday resolved to refer two old civil cases to a Nyay Manch on a trial basis. This will help us identify practical problems and formulate a Bill, rules and regulations for implementing the centuries-old system again on the ground in accordance with the present times and realities, as per the direction of the chief minister (CM),” Arava Rajkamal, West Singhbhum’s deputy commissioner (DC), said.
The DC said the two cases would be dealt as per the draft bill prepared by them, under which civil disputes up to ₹5,000, title suits, division of assets and marital disputes can be referred to Nyay Manch by the DC and the divisional commissioner.
Quasi-police forum of Mankis at the panchayat level and quasi-judicial forum and revenue collection by Mundas at the village level were in practice before India got independence from British rule on August 15, 1947. Mankis look after a group of villages, both in terms of civil, petty criminal cases and land settlement matters.
Since no legislation in Parliament scrapped, amended or modified to define constitutional status of the Wilkinson Rule to date, the Manki-Munda system was still functional in Kolhan region, comprising West Singhbhum, East Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan districts, mostly for revenue collection.
In fact, the DC said Manki-Mundas collect and deposit land revenue of ₹25-30 lakhs annually to the district administration. Earlier, Mundas used to get a 6% commission on the revenue collected. Now, they were being paid a monthly honorarium of ₹2,000, he said.
According to him, the trial will also help solve issues such as the limit of ₹5,000 that was impractical in current times, as even one decimal land was currently valued at ₹1-2 lakh.
“The commissioner has proposed to hike the limit to ₹50,000. This trial will help remove such lacunae and we will send a modified draft bill to the government for formulating an Act in consultation with the law, and land and revenue department. Mankis used to help in resolving petty criminal cases such as theft and help police in grave crimes. Currently, the focus is on civil and marital disputes. A few divorce cases have come to my court in the past as tribal marriages are not registered under any existing Act,” said Rajkamal.
Under the Wilkinson Rule, an agent to the Governor, who is the commissioner of Kolhan and his subordinate deputy commissioner in the current case, is vested with powers to form three-member and five-member Nyay Manch in every village and panchayat.
“The three-member Nyay Manch operates on jury system, under which village Munda is the chairperson and both the parties in dispute elect one member each. In case of five-member Nyay Manch, either the commissioner or the DC appoints two Mundas and a ‘neutral’ person, while both the disputing parties will bring one member each. DCs are not supposed to overrule the judgment of Nyay Manch unless one of the parties files an appeal on charges of corruption,” the DC said.
He said they were working on appointment and training process of Muharar (Peshkars) knowing tribal languages, besides preparing stamp of Nyay Manch and Manki-Mundas, as there will be no lawyers representing the disputing parties.
The Wilkinson Rule
Chotanagpur came under British control after Robert Clive defeated joint forces of Nawab of Oudh and Bengal supported by Mughal emperor Shah Alam-II in the battle of Buxar in 1765. The British entered into agreement with local kings for revenue collection. Later, King of Porahat, a subdivision in West Singhbhum, gained control by offering a higher revenue.
Kol rebellion took place in 1832 against high rent and usurpation of land by outsiders. The then British agent, Thomas Wilkinson, decided to declare Kolhan region as “Kolhan Separate Estate” with headquarters in Chaibasa and implemented the Wilkinson Rule in 1837.