Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said it has become the need of the hour to establish 'Nagar Adalats' in city corporations to help settle minor disputes across the country.
He made the remarks while presiding over a virtual discussion titled "Nagar Adalat Act: Proposed Outline and Possibility of Implementation" on Saturday.
Dr Debapriya added, "The people are more interested in resolving minor disputes at the local level due to the lengthy process, harassment and expenses associated with settling cases in existing courts.
"There are village courts that help people at the union-level to settle minor disputes, and for the municipality areas, there are the municipal courts. These courts allow people at union parishad and municipality levels to settle their disputes locally without going to a court, and thus save them from harassment and expenses."
He continued, "But, there is no such law for nearly two crore people living in 12 city corporations across the country. So, these people have to go to the courts to settle their minor disputes.
"We must launch a social movement demanding formulation of a 'Nagar Adalat Act' for people living under the city corporations. I am urging the government officials concerned to take necessary steps in this regard."
The virtual discussion was jointly organised by Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh; Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA); Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and Nagorik Uddyog.
MLAA's Chief Coordinator, Khan Md Shahid, presented an outline of the Nagar Adalat Act at the event. The draft, created on the basis of the Village Court Act, has been submitted to the concerned government departments and the Law Commission.
Dr Debapriya pointed out that Nagar Adalats can not only help settle disputes among the citizens, but can also take cognizance of complaints against city authorities.
After providing a few examples from other countries such as USA, UK and Canada, he said, "Citizens of those countries submit complaints in Nagar Adalat-equivalents against city authorities if they show negligence, lack of action or corruption, and the Nagar Adalats help settle the complaints.
"The process assures the delivery of smoother civic services to citizens of those countries."
Dr Debapriya added that if Bangladesh manages to formulate a Nagar Adalat Act and ensure speedy implementation of the law, it would ease the process of delivering civic amenities to city dwellers.
Meanwhile, local governance specialist, Tofail Ahmed said, "As the elections are now being held under party symbols, many dishonest people are getting elected as local government representatives.
"Village courts are formed by the union chairmen and members of the local wards. Therefore, such courts sometimes fall under political or individual influence. Judicial officers should be appointed as judges to Nagar Adalats to curb similar issues."
Former Appellate Division justice, Nizamul Haque Nasim; senior lawyer of Supreme Court, ZI Khan Panna; BLAST's Chief Legal Advisor, Fazlul Haque; Nagorik Uddyog's Chief Executive, Jakir Hossain; urban planner architect, Iqbal Habib participated in the discussion.
Associate Professor Quazi Mahfujul Hoque Supan from the Department of Law at Dhaka University and Professor Abdullah Al Farooq from the Department of Law at the Chattogram University attended the event among others.