Lok Adalats: The Entire Gamut

Introduction:

Indian judiciary has been progressing towards a time when it will be practically not possible to entertain all the backlogs of cases. Therefore, there has been a dire need to evolve a mechanism that will prove to be effective and relieve the heavy burden of cases on the courts and to also provide relaxation to the litigants who have been in the queue to get justice.

The concept of Lok Adalat has proved to be one of the most innovative and important contributions to the global legal jurisprudence and has evolved as one of the most vital modes of alternative dispute resolution mechanism. As the name suggests, Lok Adalat translates to, Lok: people and Adalat: court which simply means a court for the people, by the people and of the people.

In 1993, the Chief Justices and Law Ministers conference brainstormed to evolve an alternative dispute resolution mechanism so that the already overburdened mechanism of the courts could be de- clogged and after much deliberations and discussions S.89 was introduced in Code of Civil   Procedure,1908,  through the Amendment Act of 1999 which paved the way for settlement of disputes outside the court where it enabled the court to refer the cases for resolution and settlement and direct the parties to engage themselves into and settle their disputes through the following alternative dispute resolution mechanism –

  • Arbitration
  • Conciliation
  • Judicial settlement through Lok Adalats or
  • Mediation

The concept of Lok Adalat takes further the institution of Nyaya panchayat prevalent in various villages and The first Lok Adalat was held on March 14, 1982, Junagarh in Gujarat.

The roots of Lok Adalat can be traced back to the Vedic times in the period of Kautilya, Gautama, Brihaspati, and Yajnavalkya. These were then known as Kula courts – entertaining disputes if Family, community, tribe, castes and races, Shrine Courts which took cognizance of internal disputes in business, a corporation of artisans and Puga courts which looked into the matter of association of traders or commerce branches.

 The modern establishment of Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or a retired Judicial officer such as chairman, with usually two other members – a lawyer and social worker.

There are various benefits of Lok Adalat which include: 

  • There is no court fee and even if the case is already filed before a regular court, the fees will be refunded if the dispute is settled by Lok Adalat.
  • One of the most peculiar features of Lok Adalats includes that there is no Strict formal application of the procedural laws and there are transparency and neighborliness i.e. to say the disputing parties can directly interact with the judges.
  • It has majorly helped to relieve the burden of cases on the courts. Proceedings are conducted faster and in a simpler way which has proved to be a boon to the poor and illiterate people as their matters are more easily and efficiently resolved.

According to Justice V.V. Rao, it will take almost 320 years to clear the pending backlogs in India but if more people get the awareness about Lok Adalats and therefore refer their cases to it, there is a fair and reasonable chance that this will be achieved earlier.

Organization of Lok Adalats:

Section 19, Under the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987 provides that every State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or Taluk Legal Services Committee shall organize Lok Adalats at different intervals and places for exercising such jurisdiction and for areas as they think is necessary. Every Lok Adalat organized for a particular area shall comprise of:

  • Serving or retired Judicial officers, and
  • Other persons,

 The Amending Act of 1994 provided that Lok Adalat shall have the power and jurisdiction to determine and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the two parties who are involved in a dispute arising out of two situations. Firstly, when a case is pending before any court of the particular area where Lok Adalat is organized. Secondly, in respect of a dispute arising from any matter falling within the jurisdiction of such Court, but is not instituted before it. Further, as per the provision of section 19(5), an embargo is also created as an exercise of the Lok Adalat’s jurisdiction concerning any matter relating to an offense which is not compoundable under law. Thus, the jurisdiction of Lok Adalat in respect of non-compoundable offense stands excluded. The jurisdiction of Lok Adalat is not explicitly and clearly defined by subsection (5) of section 19.

Cognizance of Cases:

Section 20 of the Legal Services Authorities Act,1987 is another important provision which provides for when a particular Lok Adalat could take cognizance of cases, for compromise or settlement between the parties and also prescribes how such cases will have to be dealt with.

Section 20 (1) holds that if in any case pending before any court for which Lok Adalat is organized:

(a) the parties thereof agree; or

(b) one of the parties makes an application or an appeal to the court, for referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement of the dispute, and if such court is satisfied at the first sight that there are chances of such settlement; or

The court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat,

 Lok Adalat has the power and jurisdiction to take into consideration any matter pending before the court of law and also matters at the pre-litigation on stage, which includes matters which have not yet been presented before the court. Such matters include cases of civil as [i]well as compoundable criminal disputes which includes either fine or punishment.

Award of Lok Adalat:

Section 21 of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provides that every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed or considered to be a decree of a Civil Court or, the court fees shall also be refunded to the parties as per the Court Fees Act, 1870 if a settlement has been arrived at by the Lok Adalat which is referred to it under subsection (1) of section 20 by an order of the court. An award made by Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute and no appeal against the award shall be entertained in any court of law.

 Section 21 (2) An award made by Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute and no appeal against the award shall be entertained in any court of law.

Conclusions and Suggestions:

Lok Adalats, as would be borne out from above, are an important justice dispensation mechanism, and therefore they are required to be encouraged by all possible means. Generally, Lok Adalats are held at weekends to enable maximum participation of people in large numbers in Lok Adalat. However, at times people have got pressing engagements during weekends and many people do not attend Lok Adalat despite being summoned. In this context we can consider holding Lok Adalats on a weekday during evening hours from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M. to ensure maximum participation. The weekends Adalats may continue in the present format as it is. Another important suggestion is that a Permanent Lok Adalat may be set up at a convenient Central location to deal with cases of women and children as they are the most vulnerable section of society. These Lok Adalats can be established on the same pattern as Permanent Lok Adalat and if required additional powers may be given to those Permanent Lok Adalat already established under Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities act 1987 having the same power as enjoyed by Lok Adalat in general.

This will go a long way in inculcating confidence and a sense of assurance and security amongst the most abused section of society that is women and children. If possible this Permanent Lok Adalat may be set up in at least one Assembly constituency in Delhi NCR so that most vulnerable diaspora is not made to trudge long distances. Furthermore, Lok Adalat may be held more frequently and at least one mega Lok Adalat be held once a month.

Presiding officers having the Lok Adalat must be sensitized to act reasonably and responsibly while functioning as judges of Lok Adalat & disputants in Lok Adalat should not get the message that it is a case of Justice hurried and Justice buried. The amount of settlement arrived at in cheque bouncing cases as well as Motor Accident Compensation claims, which are majorly taken up through machinery of Lok Adalat, must be reasonable so that a large number of persons are encouraged and emboldened to join the mechanism of Lok Adalat.

Besides, the award being executed as a decree of Civil Court, it is submitted that the person who breaches the terms of settlement arrived at during Lok Adalat primarily breaches the confidence reposed by the justice dispensation machinery in said litigant learning based on his undertaking and it shakes the conscious of the entire system and therefore the defaulter of a settlement and commitment given in Lok Adalat must also be tried of contempt of court.

These suggestions if implemented would go a long way in further strengthening the system and concept of Lok Adalats which is already strongly embedded in our polity.


Research Questions

  1. Whether the justice system in India requires an effective alternative to the litigation in Courts.
  2. Whether the mechanism of Lok Adalat is an effective mechanism and a suitable alternative to the litigation in Courts, for our justice system.

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