It is true that India has a massive population. It is also true that to serve justice to a massive population is a demanding task. This is where Alternate Dispute Resolution comes into the picture. ADR brings with it the promise of a speedy resolution. The magnitude of ADR is such that the Indian Judiciary is adopting and adapting to it. Lok Adalats are an Indianized version of ADR. This article seeks to provide an overview of Lok Adalat, it also gives an experience as an observer for a day in the Lok Adalat.

Introduction to Lok Adalat as ADR mechanism

Disputes are inevitable. It is difficult to imagine a human society without conflict of interests. The disputes must be resolved at a minimum possible cost both in terms of money and time. Alternative Dispute Resolution is an attempt to devise machinery which should be capable of providing an alternative to the conventional methods of resolving disputes. A resolution endorsed the movement towards ADR at a meeting of Chief Ministers, and Chief Justices held on 4.12.1993.

As an ADR component, the special Indian establishment called Lok Adalat has, unsurprisingly, got statutory status and will come into activity when the essential warning is given by the Government of India bringing into power the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The term ‘Lok Adalat’ means people’s court. The institution of Lok Adalat is based on the principle of justice and mutual compromise. The salient features of this form of dispute resolution are participation, accommodation, fairness, expectation, voluntariness, neighbourliness, transparency, efficiency and lack of animosity.

Lok Adalats are a remarkable mix of three types of customary ADR: arbitration, mediation, and conciliation.

They use conciliation, with components of arbitration by settling on the choices lawfully binding the parties, came upon to be shared by mutual understanding and agreement between the two parties through mediation led by the Bench. The evolution of this movement was a part of the strategy to relieve the heavy burden on the Courts with pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in a queue to get justice. The first Lok Adalat was held on March 14, 1982, at Junagarh in Gujarat the land of Mahatma Gandhi.

The jurisdiction of Lok Adalats is to determine and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in cases pending before any court or any matter, which falls within the jurisdiction of the courts but has not been brought before them. They are not to have jurisdiction in matters relating to an offence, which is not compoundable under any law.

Overview of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

Legal Aid scheme was first introduced by Justice P.N. Bhagwati under the Legal Aid Committee formed in 1971. According to him, “legal aid means providing an arrangement in the society so that the missionary of administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out of reach of those who have to resort to it for enforcement of its given to them by law.”

In 1987 Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted to give a statutory base to legal aid programmes throughout the country on a uniform pattern. This Act was finally enforced on the 9th of November, 1995 after certain amendments were introduced by the Amendment Act of 1994. Hon. Mr Justice R.N. Mishra the then Chief Justice of India played a key role in the enforcement of the Act. “Access to Justice” for all is the motto of the Legal Services Authorities.

The purpose was to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice were not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities and to organize Lok Adalat to ensure that the operation of the legal system promoted justice on a basis of equal opportunity. 

National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) is the apex body constituted to lay down policies and principles for making legal services available under the provisions of the Act and to frame most effective and economical schemes for legal services. It also disburses funds and grants to State Legal Services Authorities and NGOs for implementing legal aid schemes programmes. Section 12 of the Act prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons.

Section 19 of the LSA provides that every state authority, district authority, Thaluk Legal Service Committee, High Court Legal Services Committee or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats to obtain a faster and cheaper settlement of pending cases. It is a system established by the government to provide social justice to people through conciliation, negotiation, and compromise. It is presided by a retired judge accompanied by two other members preferably a lawyer and a social worker. The Lok Adalat does not entail any court fees thus truly making it a ‘people’s court’.

Experience –

Lok Adalat Experience in India

About the Panel

We were afforded the wonderful opportunity to observe the proceedings in the courtroom no. 17. The panel consisted of three respected panellists. Mr Deepak Almate – Ad Hoc District Judge, Adv. Madhugeeta Sukhatme and Adv. Ajay Tolas.

About the nature of cases before the panel

The courtroom operated in the civil area of law, mostly involving matters of finance. As panellists informed us that majority of the matters before them were in the nature of recovery, settlement and bank dispute. We were informed by the panel that since these cases were of civil nature, they were referred to Lok Adalat under Section 89 of Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

Use of ADR by the panel

As the proceeding was unfolding before my eyes, I witnessed the setting was informal compared to the litigation proceedings before a court which is one of the salient features of ADR. The parties, along with their advocates communicated with the panellists on a one to one basis. Since the cases were sent to Lok Adalat from the court it did not take long to resolve, as the cases were of amicable nature. I witnessed that the parties before the panel were interested in resolving the matters speedily.

The panel along with the parties communicated for a short duration to identify if all the procedural formalities have been fulfilled, where there were some missing formalities the panel allotted them another time to appear usually on the same day, as it appeared that the setting did not require many formalities. The panel was actively resolving the matter by trying to reach a settlement between the parties.

The panel patiently heard both the parties list their concerns, therein proceeded to provide a viable solution that both the parties were willing to accept. The panel displayed the ‘award’ element of arbitration which is binding on the parties. The panel displayed elements of conciliation as the proceedings are interest-based, as the conciliator (panel) will when proposing a settlement, not only take into account the parties’ legal positions but also their; commercial, financial and/or personal interests.

Since the reason, parties’ resort to ADR is to avoid litigation and speedily resolve their issues it can be rightly said that the proceedings before the panel accomplished the same.

It should also be noted that key features of a Lok Adalat as ADR are:

  1. Economical: No need to pay court fees.
  2. Having powers of the Civil Court.
  3. The judgement of Lok Adalat is final and not appealable.
  4. No need to appoint an Advocate.
  5. An award passed by Lok Adalat can be executed by a court.
  6. Compromise only when satisfied with the conciliation award.
  7. Code of Civil Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act is not applicable.

 Nature of outcome in cases 

The award passed by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all parties to the dispute. No appeal shall lie to any court against the award of Lok Adalat. The award is deemed to be a decree of a civil court. Where no award is made by the Lok Adalat on the ground that no compromise settlement could be arrived at between the parties, the record of the case shall be returned to the court, from which the reference has been received. The court shall proceed to deal with such case from the stage, which was reached before such reference. In front of us we witnessed five cases being disposed.

As these were civil settlement cases (mostly), all the parties carried with them a compromise memo in pending cases, which makes it clear that the parties to the suit are interested in resolving the disputes. In the case say X, the Lok Adalat did not have jurisdiction to hear the case and they had to withdraw the matter before the panel. In another case, wherein the say Y, a miscellaneous civil appeal had been filed against a particular order given by a junior judge, the respondent to the appeal realised that they didn’t want to pursue the case any longer, so a settlement was reached and the case was withdrawn.

In the case of X, the matter before the court was of a bank dispute wherein one party had not fulfilled their obligations, the issue was the party had come before the panel to reach the dispute but one of the parties did not have a vakalatnama (power of attorney) the panel allotted them till 2 o’clock on the same day to come back with a vakalatnama to settle the dispute.

Where the case was pending before the court so the that the court fee had already been paid and then it was resolved through the Lok Adalat, the court fee would be refunded to the party in the manner under the court fees act, 1870.

 Conclusion and recommendations

Lok Adalat in India

Lok Adalat is the system which is alternative to the existing court proceedings which save time and money. It can accept only such cases which come within their competence and capability for disposal. The Lok Adalat is mainly used to settle the disputes relating to matrimonial disputes, right to maintenance, revenue disputes, land acquisition, consolidation of holdings, finance dispute cases. The RBI favours Lok Adalat. Banks may no longer be able to resort to strong-arm techniques for loan recovery. The draft guidelines issued by RBI suggest that banks should use the forum of Lok Adalat for the recovery of personal loans, credit card loans or housing loans of less than Rs. 10 lakhs.

Permanent Lok Adalat does perform and can perform invaluable service as conciliators or mediators. But then to tell parties that even if they do not agree to settle the matter the Lok Adalat would go ahead and pass a decree which will then be binding on them is horrendously arbitrary and unreasonable. But one tends to forget the form of judicial review is always open for the parties through the writ petitions. This is a basic feature of the Constitution and cannot be ruled out. Denial of it would be unfair and unwarranted. The ultimate result would be that all these matters will come knocking at the doors of the High Court, thus suffocating an already overloaded High Court.

Lok Adalat ensures speedier justice because it can be conducted at suitable places, arranged very fast, in local languages too, even for the illiterates. The victims and the offender may be represented by their advocate or they can interact with the Lok Adalat judge directly and explain their stand in the dispute and the reasons thereof, which is not possible in a regular court of law. The procedural laws and the Evidence Act are not strictly followed while assessing the merits of the claim by the Lok Adalat.

Hence, Lok Adalat is also known as “People’s Festivals of Justice”

This consists of people who can be considered marginalized.

It embodies the legislative mandate to the court to refer sub judice disputes to various ADR mechanisms enunciated therein where it finds it appropriate to do so, in order to enable the parties to finally resolve their pending cases through well-established dispute resolution methods other than litigation

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