I.D. Dua, C.J.
(1) If there ever was a case in which the fundamental principles of our criminal jurisprudence have been violated to the prejudice of the citizen, this is the one.
(2) Seven residents of village Shekhal, Pargana Nawar, Tehsil Rohroo, made a report to the Sarpanch, Naya Panch Tikhar, in which it was stated that Nand Ram son of Gurdas Lad stopped the passage, at a place known as Bundar Raj, of the cattle and numerous passers by in Chak Shekhal by constructing a wall. The said Nand Ram had no right outside the area owned by him During the rainy season, there was no toher path except this one which was being used for generations. It was prayed that Nand Ram be stopped pending the decision on the grevance of the said villagers. This report is dated 18th July. 1967. Annexure 'F' shows the proceedings taken by the Panchay at on the basis of this report. Curiously enough, the certified copy of these proceedings does nto bear any date. It would be helpful to reproduce in verbatim the three questions and answers which constituted the entire trial before the Panchayat :-
'QUESTION.-SARVSHRIHoma Nand and Kondu and toher residents have reported against you that you had constructed a wall at a place known as Bundar Raj within Chak Shekhal and thereby stopped the passage of men and cattle Answer.-Yes, I have constructed a wall and stopped the passage since it passed through the field owned by me. Question -Whether the first party carried the dead bodies through this path for cremation and by the construction of wall their being so carried, had been stopped and has been rendered dangerous Answer. -I have recently constructed a Dogri there. Opposite to the Dogri, the residents of village Shekhal had their cremation ground. I would nto permit them to cremate the dead bodies there. Question. - Do you plead guilty to the offence Answer. -Yes, I admit the guilt for the reasons that damage is caused to the field owned by me by the passage, besides the cattle of all the residents of the village caused damage to my field.' On the basis of the answers given by Nand Ram, the Panchayat passed the following order :- 'Cognizance of the afforesaid case was taken by me. Shri Kewal Ram, Sarpanch and Shri Amar Prakash, Ranch and Shri Sharma Nand, Panch and Shri Sonak Ram, Panch. The facts of the case are follows :- 1. That Huma Nand and tohers had reported that Nand Ram accused had by constructing a wall stopped a thoroughfare for men and cattle at Bandar Raj in Chak Shekhat through which besides the residents of village Shekhal the residents of village Narain had the right of passage. 2 Nand Ram accused was apprised about the report, who states that he had actually stopped the thoroughfare known as Bandar Raj by constructing a wall and thereby the passing of men and cattle has stopped. The residents of village Shekhal carried the dead persons for cremation by this place. Since he had constructed a Dogri there and the cremation place is opposite to it, thereforee he would nto allow the dead bodies to be carried or be cremated there. 3, That the offence against the accused under section 283 Indian Penal Code stood proved before we Panches and thereforee without going into the depth and facts of the case, we sentence the accused .Nand Ram to pay a fine of Rs. 80.00 for an offence proved under section 283 I.P.C. The order announced and the file be consigned after compliance. Dated 25th of July 1907. P.S. The accused is further ordered and directed that he should open the path within a month '
This order was made on the 25th July, 1907.
(3) The petitioner took the matter on revision to the Sub Divisional judge exercising the powers of a Magistrate who dealt with the revision under section 93 of the Himachal Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act, 1952 (Act 6 of 1953) (hereafter called the Act). The order made by the learned Sub-Divisional Judge also deserves to be reproduced in exten so: -
'THEparties were present. The petitioner was duly defended by a counsel and the panchayat by the A.P.P. Arguments were heard and the material on the record was considered. The Panchayat has given a reasonable opportunity to the accused to explain his case and the allegations had been put to him in simple and clear form The accased has on the whole, pleaded guilty to the charge leveled against him. The case is nto compoundable and the Naya Panchayat has rightly taken cognizance of the same. In my opinion, there is no miscarriage of justice and there is no need for me to interfere with the action taken by the Panchayat. I, however, feel that the fine imposed by the bench of the Naya Panchayat is quite heavy. The same is reduced to Rupees fifty only (50.00) and the rest of the action of the Naya Panchayat is upheld. The petition is dismissed. Naya Panchayat be informed accordingly through a copy of the judgment.'
It is in these circumstances that the present petition under Article 227 of the Constitution has been preferred and the learned counsel for the petitioner has submitted that there is no confession of guilt by Nand Ram on the basis of which the Panchayat has convicted him of the offence under section 233, I. P.C. Reference has been made to the last answer by the accused to the question 'do you plead guilty to the offence?' and it is pointed out that the accused expressly stated that he had stopped the passage because it caused damage to the field owned by him. He had also in answer to question No. 1 clearly stated that he had constructed a wall and stopped the passage since it passed through the field owned by him.
(4) On behalf of the respondents, the learned counsel has merely submitted that reading all the three questions and answers together. one may spell out that the accused admitted that the people had been using this passage for some time and if that were so, then the answers given by the accused clearly show that he has confessed his guilt. I am wholly unable to accede to this contention. 5. Section 283, I. P. C., may, at this stage, appropriately be read out:-
'283.Whoever, by doing any act, or by omitting to take order with any property in his possession or under his charge, causes danger, obstruction or injury to any person in any public way or public line of navigation, shall be punished with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees.' A plain reading of this section would show that the real gravamen of the offence lies in the accused acting or omitting to take order with any property in his possession or under his chargs and thereby causing danger, obstruction or injury to any parson in any public way etc. This section can by no means be extended to a case where a party prohibits strangers from passing through its field, even though they may have been allowed access on earlier occasions. There is no confession by the accused that his conduct has obstructed or caused injury to any person in any public way and that apparently seems to be the only line of reasoning on which the Panchayat seems to have proceeded to convict the accused-petitioner.
(6) Unfortunately, even the learned Sub-Divisonal Judge does nto seem to have applied his mind to the case and does nto seem to have gone through the record for the purpose of satisfying himself that the evidence or the material on the record brings home to the accused person the guilt of which he has been convicted.
(7) My attention has been drawn from the bar to Rule 120 of the Panchayat Rules of Himachal-Pradesh made under section 135 of the Act which provides for the examination of the parties and their witnesses. This rule, inter alia, lays down that when bearing a civil suit or a revenue proceeding, the Nayaya Panchayat shall first examine the plaintiff or applicant and his witnesses and afterwards the defendant or objector and his witnesses, as the case may be. In regard to criminal cases, it lays down that while trying a criminal case, it shall first explain to the accused the charge or charges made against him and shall then record prosecution evidence and then examine the accused and his defense. The proviso to this rule lays down that if in a criminal case an accused makes a clear and voluntary confession of the crime, he may be convicted without recording any evidence, while in a civil suit or revenue proceeding, if the claim of the plaintiff or the applicant is ttoally admitted by the toher party, it will nto be necessary for the Nayaya Panchayat to record any evidence. The question naturally rises if there is a clear and voluntary confession of the crime by the accused. As observed earlier, it is nto possible for any judicial mind to come to the conclusion on the basis of the questions and answers reproduced above that Nand Ram had made a clear confession of the crime. It is undoubtedly provided in the Act, as per section 85, that the Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act are inapplicable to cases in a Nyaya Panchayat except as provide in the Act or as may be prescribed. But Rule 120 unequivocally prescribes that in trying criminal cases, the Nyaya Pa.nchayat has to explain to the accused the charge or charges made against him and then record prosecution evidence and then again examine the accused and his defense. If the questions and answers reproduced above do nto amount to a clear and voluntary confession then this was the procedure which the Nayaya Panchayat was under a mandatory obligation to adopt. Having failed to do so, the Panchayat had no jurisdiction to proceed to convict the accused on the material on the record. Btoh the impugned orders are thus liable to be quashed and set aside and I order accordingly.
(8) The older made by the Panchayat also includes a direction to the accused to open the path within one month. Shri Thakur has submitted that while proceeding to try the case under section 283, I. P. C, the Panches had no jurisdiction to give this direction. Now the report did nto purport to be a complaint relating to an offence under section. 283, I. P. C. Indeed, it does nto make any reference to any provision of law under which it was made. All that it prayed was that Nand Ram, the second party, be stopped till the decision by the Panchayat. The Nyaya Panchayat apparently thought that it was a complaint of a criminal o fence which it was called upon to try. Obviously, if that was the scope of the report, then a direction to open the path could hardly be permissible to the Panchayat to make, but if the enquiiy was considered to be an omnibus enquiry into btoh the civil rights of the villagers and the criminal offence by the accused, then perhaps the impugend order might have been permissible. But here again there was no trial in accordance with Rule 120 and it could hardly be said that Nand Ram had admitted the claim of the complaining-villagers, with the result that no order mere questions to and answers by Nand Ram, as reproduced above, could be legally made. The entire procedure adopted by Nyaya Panchayat seems to me to be in violation of the fundamental principles of natural justice and contrary to Rule 120; and this Court cannto too strongly disapprove of such a procedure.
(9) Before concluding, I cannto help expressing grave concern in the matter of administration of justice, btoh criminal and civil by the Panchayats. If the anchayats are to be given judicial powers, then it is only fit and proper that the Ranches entrusted with these functions should be made to realise the b sic principles on which the admistration of jus4ce in this Republic is founded. This is all the more important in the matter of criminal justice, it is true that the Panchayats under the Act cannto order imprisonment, but that is immaterial, for, the sentence of fine in criminal trials is also a very serious matter. Indsed, in seme cases, where the accused are poor, fine may work much greater hardship than a light sentence of imprisonment. The Panches mast also have reasonable knowledge of our laws, btoh penal and civil and the initial presumption of innocence to which an accused is ordinarily entitled in our set up, must never be lost sight of by those who try criminal cases. In backward areas with pre-independence background of omniptoent autocrats, where people are ignorant and are nto conscious of the boons of the independence and of our constitutional set up, particular care has to be taken in appointing Panches who are invested with drastic powers. In the present case, the proceedings of the Panches are recorded in Hindi and it is nto known if they can read and write English and if they were even conscious of the scope and meaning of section 283, Indian Penal Code , by having access to the Indian Penal Code written in a language known to them. Merely creating Panches and giving them judicial power, does nto by itself advance the cause of justice they must be men who know the law and have the desire and the capacity to administer law Justly with a sense of dedication and duty. Rough and ready and cheap and easily accessible justice also postulates the basic fundamental requisites and requires some minimum safegurds for those who may be prejudicially affected thereby.
(10) Without say ing anything more on the subject, I allow this petition and set aside and quash btoh the orders namely the Panchayat and of the Sub-Divisional Judge. The fine if realised, must berefunded to the accused-petitioner.