Gódávari/Chapter 13

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CHAPTER XIII.

ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.


Early Methods—Under native rule—Under the Chiefs and Councils. The Present System—In the plains—In the Agency. Civil Justice—Existing Courts—Amount of litigation—Registration. Criminal Justice—The various Courts—Crime—The Yanadis or Nakkalas—Other criminal classes. Police—Former systems—The existing force, jails.

Under native rule, and also in the early days of British administration, the regular courts of justice were few. The Committee of Circuits,[1] in its report of December 1786, describes as follows the system which was in force:—

'During the Mogul Government there were courts of justice established at Rajahmundry and Ellore, where Kazis administered justice according to Muhammadan law. The Foujidars[2] reserved to themselves the infliction of capital punishments and the determination on causes of considerable property. There was also at each place a Cutval (kotwál) with an establishment of peons to superintend the police, and a Nurkee whose duty it was to regulate the price of provisions.

'Of these nothing but the names remain, and the inhabitants are without any Courts of Justice. Trifling disputes are settled by the Karnams and head inhabitants. Matters of greater consequence are referred to the Renter or the Chief and Council; but the distance at which some of the farms are from the seat of Government renders an appeal to the latter troublesome and expensive. For heinous crimes (which are seldom perpetrated) the only imprisonment at present inflicted by cur Government is confinement of the culprit's person.'

In the early days of British rule the only civil court having any jurisdiction within the district was that of the Chief and Council at Masulipatam, and the activities of this were confined almost exclusively to the limits of Masulipatam town and factory. 'Of criminal jurisdiction there was none. There was no law providing for the infliction of death or any other penalty. . . . The Chiefs in Council had very little authority in their districts; and of course every zamindar could interfere in the direct administration of justice.' A brief but vivid picture of the lawlessness which naturally resulted from this state of things is afforded by a contemporary account of the condition in 1789 of the port of Coringa, then a busy place. There, owing to the number of ships and sailors that visited the port and the 'general want of police,' fighting, thefts and murder were common. 'When any wrong is done the injured party has no one of sufficient authority to apply to for redress. Every one here is judge of his own cause. The Honorable Company's Resident lives at Comprapollam (Sunkarpálaiyam near Injaram), eight miles off; and when applied to on such occasions urges want of due authority to remedy abuses and to take cognizance of offences.'1[3]

The beginning of the last century witnessed a salutary change in the state of things. The supine Chiefs and Councils had been replaced in 1794 by Collectors; and in 1802 Lord Cornwallis' system of judicial administration was introduced into this Presidency and a Zilla Court was established at Rajahmundry. It was subordinate to a peripatetic Provincial Court at Masulipatam, the judges of which used to come on circuit from time to time and hold criminal sessions. In the same year (1802) native commissioners were appointed to hear petty civil suits. A few years later they received the designation of district munsifs, which, though their powers have been much increased, they still bear. In 1827 Auxiliary Courts were established and native judges (later called Principal Sudder Amins) were appointed with extensive authority. In 1843 the Zilla and Provincial Courts were abolished and a Civil and a Subordinate Court were created in their stead at Rajahmundry. The latter was abolished in 1859; but in 1873, when the existing District Courts Act became law, the name of Subordinate Courts was given, as elsewhere, to the courts of the Principal Sudder Amins, and the chief court in the district was designated the District and Sessions Court. The Sub-Court at Rajahmundry was temporarily abolished in 1877.

In the Agency, both civil and criminal justice are differently administered. This tract consists of the deputy tahsildars' divisions of Pólavaram, Yellavaram and Chódavaram and the taluk of Bhadráchalam, all of which are remote tracts covered with hill and jungle, sparsely provided with communications, shunned by the dwellers in the plains, and inhabited by backward tribes who are most illiterate and ignorant of the ways of the world, and yet ready to go out on the warpath if once any of their many peculiar susceptibilities are wounded. In country, and to people, such as these, much of the ordinary law of the land is unsuited, and a special system has consequently been introduced.

A precedent existed in the case of the Agencies of Vizagapatam and Ganjám, In consequence of the unceasing turbulence in them which led at length to the appointment, in 1832, of a Special Commissioner, with special powers, to restore order, these two tracts were excluded, by Act XXIV of 1839, from the operation of much of the ordinary law and were placed under the direct administration of the Collectors of those districts, who were endowed with special and extraordinary powers within them in their capacity as 'Agents to the Governor.'

A similar method of administration was extended to the greater part of the present Gódávari Agency in 1879, advantage being taken of the Scheduled Districts Act (India Act XIV of 1874) to constitute an Agency in the then Bhadráchalam and Rékapalle taluks, which make up the present Bhadráchalam taluk, and 'the Rampa country,' which is practically the present Chódavaram division.

The Agency thus formed has been three times extended; namely, in 1881, when the muttas of Dutcharti and Guditeru (now in Yellavaram division) were transferred to it from the Vizagapatam Agency; in 1883,1[4] when the villages of the resumed mansab of Jaddangi and large portions of the Pólavaram division were added; and in 1891,2[5] when the Pólavaram and Yellavaram divisions attained substantially their present shape.

In the Agency thus constituted the Collector of the district, in his capacity as Government Agent, is both District Magistrate and District and Sessions Judge; the tahsildar and Deputy tahsildars have minor civil jurisdiction within their respective charges, corresponding (with certain modifications) to that of district munsifs; and the Agency Deputy Collector of Pólavaram and the Divisional Officer at Bhadráchalam, in their capacity as Assistant Agents, hear appeals from them and have powers similar to those of Subordinate Judges. The tahsildars and deputy tahsildars (and the taluk sarishtadar at Bhadráchalam) are second-class magistrates, and the Divisional Officers, as elsewhere, are first-class magistrates; but appeals from the decisions of the latter lie to the Collector as Agency Sessions Judge. The village munsifs have the ordinary crimmal, but no civil, powers. The procedure in civil suits is not governed by the usual Civil Procedure Code, but by a simpler set of rules framed under section 6 of the Scheduled Districts Act. Rules under this same enactment have also been drawn up for the guidance of the Agent in other branches of the administration.

Outside the Agency, the civil tribunals of the district are of the usual four grades; namely, the courts of village and district munsifs, the Sub-Court and the District Court.

District munsifs' courts have been established at Rajah- mundry, Cocanada, Peddápuram and Amalápuram. That at Amalápuram has a heavier file than any of the others.

The Sub-Court is stationed at Cocanada. It was estab- lished in 1874. Another Sub-Court was in existence at Rajahmundry for a few months in 1895; began regularly working there in 1903; but was abolished in 1905.

The District Court is held at Rajahmundry. Before the district was reduced in size by the transfer to Kistna of the taluks south of the Gódávari, the file of this court was very heavy. In 1902 the number of suits instituted in, and of appeals disposed of by, it was greater than in any other District Court in the Presidency.

As in other wealthy districts, the amount of litigation in Amount of Gódávari is great. In 1902, in the district as then constituted but excluding the Agency, more suits were instituted per unit of the population than in any other in the Presidency excepting Tanjore, North Malabar and Tinnevelly. In the Agency, on the other hand, litigation is rarer than in any other tract in Madras except the Agencies of Vizagapatam and Ganjám.

The registration of assurances is effected in the usual Registration, manner. A District Registrar is stationed at Cocanada and sixteen sub-registrars are located at Rajahmundry; at Amala- puram, Kottapeta and Mummidivaram in Amalapuram taluk; at Razole in Nagaram ; at Peddapuram and Prattipadu in Peddapuram; at Ramachandrapuram, Draksharamam, Alamur and Bikkavolu in Rámachandrapuram; at Cocanada and Coringa in Cocanada taluk; and at Polavaram, Pithapuram and Tuni. There are no sub-registrars in the Chodavaram or Yellavaram Agency tracts but in Bhadrachalam the Registra- tion Act was extended to certain villages in 1906 and the taluk sheristadar acts as sub-registrar. The criminal tribunals are of the same classes as elsewhere. Criminal The village magistrates have the usual powers, both within Justice. and outside the Agency. Bench Courts, invested with third- The various •=■ -' ' . Courts. class powers to try offences under the Towns Nuisances Act, the Municipalities Act and the conservancy clauses of the Police Act, have been established at Rajahmundry and Cocanada. The latter also tries cases of assault and voluntarily causing hurt under the Penal Code.

All the tahsildars and deputy tahsildars in the district have second-class magisterial powers, but in Amalápuram, Cocanada, Peddápuram, Rajahmundry and Rámachandrapuram there are stationary sub-magistrates, and the tahsildars of these taluks hear few cases. At Bhadráchalam, also, there is a second-class magistrate in addition to the tahsildar. Deputy tahsildars with second-class magisterial powers are stationed at Kottapéta in Amalápuram taluk, Coringa in Cocanada taluk, Prattipádu in Peddápuram taluk and Álamúr in Rámachandrapuram and independent deputy tahsildars with similar authority at Pithápuram and Tuni. As elsewhere, appeals from the second-class magistrates, and practically the whole of the first-class cases arising in the district, are decided by the Divisional Officers, who are severally stationed at Cocanada, Peddápuram, Rajahmundry, Pólavaram, and Bhadráchalam. The District Magistrate and the Sessions Judge have the usual jurisdiction, except that, as already mentioned, the latter has no powers in the Agency, his place in that area being taken by the District Magistrate.

Gódávari occupies a rather unenviable position among the Madras districts in respect of the total amount of registered crime which occurs within it, but a very large proportion of the offences committed are common thefts, and another considerable percentage are simple house-breakings. In crime of the graver kinds — robberies, dacoities and murders — its position is not exceptional, and indeed dacoities are rare outside Pólavaram.

The nearest approach to a criminal tribe is afforded by the Yánádis or Nakkalas. These people are called indifferently by either of these two names, though they themselves resent the appellation Nakkala. This word seems to be derived from nakka, a jackal, since the tribe is expert in catching these animals and eats them. The Nakkalas are generally of slight physique, dark of complexion and very dirty in their habits. At Pithápuram there are some of them who are more strongly built and perhaps spring from a different strain. On the register of criminal gangs kept by the police there are at the present time 114 men, 121 women and 236 children belonging to this caste. The most troublesome sections of them are those in the Rámachandrapuram and Peddápuram taluks.

The Nakkalas are by nature wanderers and dwellers in fields and scrub jungle, who make a scanty living by catching jackals, hares, rats and tortoises, by gathering honey, and by finding the caches of grain stored up by field-mice. To people with such slender means of subsistence the gains of petty pilfering offer a strong temptation; but the Nakkalas seldom commit any of the bolder kinds of crime, though now and again they have been known to rise to burglary, more rarely to robbery, and sometimes even to dacoity. Of late years most of them have settled down permanently in villages. They live in very small huts made of palmyra-leaves. They add to their earnings from their hereditary occupations the wages to be earned by light cooly work in the villages, and are consequently looked upon by the rest of the community as rather an acquisition when cheap labour is in demand. They are sometimes employed as horse-keepers by subordinate officials; and their women are very useful as sweepers, since, though they are exceedingly dirty in their persons, they are not considered to carry ceremonial pollution. If treated well, they live in this hand-to-mouth fashion and give no trouble to the authorities, and their present unfortunate notoriety as a criminal tribe is largely due to the performances of one notorious gang of them in Rámachandrapuram taluk. This gang, led first by one well-known criminal and later by another, consisted of about fifteen men and lived an entirely nomadic life, subsisting on the proceeds of its thefts and burglaries. It has now been broken up, ten of its members being in jail (most of them on long sentences) and the others, with one exception, being in hiding; and probably the criminal propensities of the Nakkalas will henceforth be less in evidence.

Three other classes of people, namely, some of the Málas, the 'Pachayappas,' and the 'Peddinti Gollas,' have pronounced criminal tendencies. Two small sets of Málas in the central delta (one in the limits of Kottapéta station, and the other in those of Nagaram station) have a decided turn for burglary. A number of convictions are on record against them. The Pachayappas consist of six wandering gangs, containing 68 registered male members, who are constantly on the move and are under police supervision. They originally came from the direction of Guntúr. They ostensibly live by begging, but there is little doubt that the proceeds of crime contribute to maintain the men in the robust condition they exhibit and to support the crowd of children who belong to them. Cases are from time to time established against them, and some of them have been convicted of burglary and theft. The Peddinti Gollas comprise four gangs who appeared in the district in 1902. They are said to have come from Kurnool, and to have committed a large dacoity in Kistna. Only thirteen male members of these now remain.

Up to the time of the permanent settlement in 1802, such police as existed were under the orders of the renters and zamindars, and were in some cases remunerated by grants of land on favourable tenure. In the larger towns kotwáls with separate establishments were maintained. At the permanent settlement, the zamindars' control over the police was withdrawn, and Government assumed the responsibility of enforcing law and order. In the hill country, which was excluded from the permanent settlement, the muttadars were, however, still expected to keep order within their muttas, and this responsibility is even now insisted upon. The muttadars of Chódavaram and Yellavaram are bound by their sanads to 'afford every assistance to the Sircar in maintaining quiet and order, by giving timely information of any disturbance or offence against the laws, and apprehending and delivering up to the authorities robbers, rebels and other bad characters.'1[6] As a matter of fact they perform this service indifferently, and are of little use in suppressing or detecting crime.

The existing police force, which like that in other districts was constituted by Act XXIV of 1859, is in charge of a District Superintendent stationed at Rajahmundry, aided by an Assistant Superintendent at Bhadráchalam who has immediate control over the police in the Agency.

Statistics of the force, and of its distribution among the various taluks, will be found in the separate Appendix. A reserve about one hundred strong under an inspector and two sergeants is maintained at Rajahmundry, and consists of picked men, better armed and drilled than the others, who are qualified to deal with disturbances. As a rule the inspectors' divisions are included within the limits of only one taluk or revenue division, but a few unimportant exceptions occur. Dowlaishweram in Rajahmundry taluk, for example, is included in the limits of the Álamúr station, and Pithápuram lies entirely in the Súriyaraopéta (Cocanada) police division.

Besides the regular police, there are 477 talaiyáris or rural constables, who, as in other districts, are required to afford help to the police, especially by reporting the presence of suspects within their villages and the occurrence of crime, and by aiding in the detection of offences committed within their limits. They are reported to be of little real assistance. At Chódavaram is located the Special Hill Reserve, who are armed with Martini-Henry rifles and are kept up primarily to cope with any overt disturbances which may occur in the wild Agency country. They number about 40 men, are in charge of the divisional inspector, and perform the ordinary duties of the station.

At Rajahmundry is one of the eight Central Jails of the Jails Presidency. It was established in 1864, is constructed on the radiating principle, and will hold 1,089 criminal, and 20 civil, prisoners. Cellular accommodation has been provided for 400 convicts, and the rest are kept in wards. The convicts are employed in a variety of industries, manufacturing, among other articles, carpets, coarse woollen blankets, sandals, tin and brass work, furniture of various kinds, and fabrics woven from cotton, such as sheeting, rugs, table-cloths, napkins, etc. Fly shuttles are used in some of the looms. They enable double the ordinary quantity of work to be accomplished, but have not yet been rendered suitable for the finer fabrics.

Thirteen sub-jails exist in the district; namely, one at each of the taluk head-quarters and at the deputy tahsildars' stations of Álamúr (Rámachandrapuram taluk), Kottapéta (Amalápuram), Prattipadu (Peddápuram), Pithápuram, Tuni and Pólavaram. These have accommodation for 186 prisoners in all.

  1. See Chapter XI, p. 162.
  2. I.e. The Faujdárs, sometimes called also Nawábs, who were in charge of each of the five Northern Circars.
  3. 1 Selections from the Records of the Madras Government (Madras, 1855), xix, 24.
  4. 1 See notification in the Gazette of India for 1883, i, 265.
  5. 2 See notification in the Gazette of India for 1891, i, 248.
  6. 1 See Chapter XI, p. 177.