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Lok Adalat: Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism In India

Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms, it is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably. Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Under the said Act, the award (decision) made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be a decree of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law.

If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award, but they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in exercise of their right to litigate.

There is no court fee payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refunded back to the parties. The persons deciding the cases in the Lok Adalats are called the Members of the Lok Adalats, they have the role of statutory conciliators only and do not have any judicial role; therefore they can only persuade the parties to come to a conclusion for settling the dispute outside the court in the Lok Adalat and shall not pressurize or coerce any of the parties to compromise or settle cases or matters either directly or indirectly.

The Lok Adalat shall not decide the matter so referred at its own instance, instead the same would be decided on the basis of the compromise or settlement between the parties. The members shall assist the parties in an independent and impartial manner in their attempt to reach amicable settlement of their dispute.

Lok Adalat is a system of a dispensation of justice which has come into existence to grapple with the problem of giving cheap and speedy justices to the people. Lok Adalat as the very name suggests means people’s court. Lok stands for people and the Adalat means court.

Nature and Scope: Generally speaking, Lok Adalat is not a court in its accepted connotation. The difference between Lok Adalat and law court is that the law court sets at its premises where the litigants come with their lawyers and witnesses goes to the people to delivers justice at their door step. It is a forum provided by the people themselves or by interested parties including social activities or social activist legal aiders, and public spirited people belonging to every walk of life. It is just a firm forum provided by the people themselves for enabling the common people to ventilate their grievances against the state agencies or against other citizens and to seek a just settlement if possible.

The basic philosophy behind the Lok Adalat is to resolve the people dispute by discussion, counseling, persuasion and conciliation so that it gives speedy and cheap justice, mutual and free consent of the parties. In short it is a party’s justice in which people and judges participate and resolve their disputes by discussion, persuasion and mutual consent.


Types of cases at Lok Adalat: The types of cases dealt with generally are:

  1. Mutation of land cases.
  2. Compoundable criminal offences.
  3. Family disputes.
  4. Encroachment on forest lands.
  5. Land acquisition disputes.
  6. Motor accident claim, and
  7. Cases which are not sub-judice.
Resources and achievement of Lok Adalat: Lok Adalat can only expect gratitude of the people in distress in return. They must devote time for the cause of social justice and dedicate their service for its success. Lok Adalats are generally organized in the premises of courts. Lok Adalat can work as real good substitutes for setting cases which are pending in superior courts. Encouraged by the response that Lok Adalat have been receiving at the district level, the state legal aid boards have started organizing Lok Adalats for cases pending in the High Courts.

The Lok Adalat has also been organized even for the cases pending in the Supreme Court.
Lok Adalats are known as Peoples festivals of justice because settlements are not always necessarily according to legal principles settlements have an eye mainly on;
  1. Social goals like ending quarrels
  2. Restoring family peace
  3. Providing succor for destitute.

Organization of Lok Adalat (Sec. 18)

  1.  The State authority or district authority or the High Court legal services committee or as the case may be; Tehsil legal services committee may organize Lok Adalat at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit. 2. Every Lok-Adalat organized for an area shall consist of such number of;
    a) Serving or retired on judicial officer, and
    b) Other person of the area as may be specified by the state authority or the district authority or the High Court legal services committee or as the case may be, the Tehsil legal services committee organizing such Lok Adalats.
  2. The experience and qualifications of persons. Referred to in clause (b) of sub sec. (2) for Lok Adalats shall be such as may be prescribed by the government in consultation with the chief justice of the High Court.
  3. Lok Adalats shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of;
    a) Any case pending before the court
    b) Any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of and is not brought before any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized.
    Provided that the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter or case relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.

Cognizance of cases by Lok-Adalat (Sec. 19)

  1. Wherein any case referred in clause (1) of sub sec. (4) of sec. 18
    i) (a) The parties thereof agree; or
    (b) One of the parties there of makes an application to the court of referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement and if such court prime facie satisfy that there are chances of such settlement, or
    ii) That the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to take cognizance of by the Lok Adalat; the court shall refer the case to the Lok Adalat. Provided that no case shall be referred to the Lok-Adalat under sub-clause (b) clause;
  2. by such court after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
  3. Not with standing anything contained in any other law for the time being in force the authority or committee organizing the Lok Adalat under sub sec. (1) of sec. 18 may on the receipt of application from any of the parties to any matter referred to in clause (h) of sub sec. (4) of sec. 18, that such matter needs to be determined by a Lok Adalat, for determination.
    Provided that no matter shall be referred to Lok-Adalat except after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the other party.
  4. When any case is referred to a Lok Adalat under sub sec. (1) or where a reference has been made to its under sub sec. (2), the Lok Adalat shall proceed to dispose of the case or matter of case and arrive at the compromise or settlement between parties.
  5. Every Lok Adalat shall, while determining any reference before it under this act, act to the utmost expedition to arrive at compromise or settlement between the parties and shall be guided by the principles of justice, equality fair play and other legal principles.
  6. Where no reward is made by the Lok Adalat on the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties, the record of case shall be returned by it to the court, by which the reference has been received under sub sec. (1) for disposal in accordance with law.
  7. Where no award is made by the Lok Adalat on the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties in a matter referred to it under sub sec. (2) of sec. 18 that Lok Adalat shall advise the parties in a matter referred to in sub sec. (2), that Lok Adalat shall advise the parties to seek remedy in a court.
  8. Where the record of the case is returned under sub sec. (5) to the court, such court shall proceed to deal with such cases from the stage which was reached before such reference under sub sec. (1).

Procedure of Lok-Adalats (Sec. 20)

  1. The Lok Adalats are generally organized by state legal aid and advice boards or the district legal aid committees etc.
  2. Lok Adalats shall have jurisdiction to determine and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of;
    a) Any case pending before the court; or
    b) Any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of and is not brought before any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized.
    The Lok Adalat shall not have jurisdiction in respect of any matter or case relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.
  3. The date and place of holding a Lok Adalat are fixed about a month in advance by the Legal Aid Board. The date so fixed is generally a Saturday or Sunday or some other holiday.
  4. 1nformation about holding a Lok Adalat is given wide publicity through press, posters, radio, TV, etc.
  5. Before a Lok-Adalat is held, its organizers request the presiding officers of the various local courts to examine cases pending in their courts where in their opinion, conciliation is possible. Once the cases are identified, parties to the dispute are motivated by the judges of the Lok Adalats to settle their cases through Lok Adalat.
  6. Generally, senior judicial officers are invited to inaugurate a Lok Adalat.
  7. The team of Lok Adalat generally consist of retired judges, senior local officers, members of the Bar, spirited public-men, active women social worker, elders of the locality and voluntary social organizations. The members of the Lok Adalat are called conciliators. The number of conciliators is usually three.
  8. If conciliation result in a settlement of a dispute, a compromise deed is drawn up and after obtaining the signatures of the parties to the disputes and their advocates, it is presented to the presiding officer of the competent court who is normally present at the place where the Lok Adalat is organized.
  9. The judge (Presiding officer) after examining the fairness and legality of compromise and satisfying himself that the compromise has been arrived at by the free will and mutual consent of the parties, passes a decree.

Award of Lok-Adalat (Sec. 21)

  1. Every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of civil court or as the case may be, an order of any other court and where a compromise or a settlement has been arrived at, by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to it under sec. 20(1), the court fee paid in such case shall be refunded in a manner provided under the court fee Act, 1870.
  2. Even award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.

Powers of Lok Adalat (Sec. 22)

  1. The Lok-Adalat shall have the same powers as are vested in a civil court under the code of civil procedure 1908 while trying a suit in respect of the following matters namely;
    a) The summoning and enforcing the attendance of any witness and examining him on oath.
    b) The discovery and production of any document.
    c) The reception of evidence on affidavits.
    d) The requisitioning of any public record or document or copy of such record or document from any court of office and
    e) Such other matters as may be prescribed.
  2. Without prejudice to the generality of the powers contained in sub sec. (1), every Lok Adalat shall have the requisite powers to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
  3. All proceedings before the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of sec. 193, 219 and 228 of the I.P.C and every Lok-Adalat shall deemed to be civil for the purpose of sec. 195 of C. P C.

Functions of the Lok Adalat:

Lok Adalat can accept only such cases as come within their competence and capability for disposal. The movement towards organizing of Lok-Adalats came into being in respect of a few selected matters. All their initial functioning they entertained motor vehicle accident causes and appeals connected with them. It is hopefully expected that the Lok Adalats would accept other causes also among them being tenure matters, money causes, so that such disputes are settled on personal bonds or under takings.

This will be indication of the fact that in the matters of resolution of disputes, India is back to its traditional methods. But even so experience has shown that it is not easy to bring the parties to dispute to the negotiation table and to ask them to settle under some kind of compromise involving give and take.

A large number of legal causes are such that one of the parties is interested in prolonging litigation and only the other wants a speedy trial. It would seem that by this approach the state would be saved of needless costs of litigation and also meaningless administrative compilations. Government has to bear many direct and indirect cost of litigation. In the category of direct of costs, the costs are court and lawyers fees, expenses of prosecution and of attending to incidental matters.

Indirect costs are loss of time involved in disputes and increasing costs of expending fiduciary. There are some categories of government litigation in which Lok Adalats can play a constructive role. One of such categories is matter arising out of land acquisition. Among the people whose land is acquired are generally poor villagers those belonging to middle classes. When their land is taken away, from their hands, they naturally except that compensation should be provided to them at the earliest movement of time.

Another category of government litigation which can be handled through Lok Adalats is disciplinary proceeding. Many proceedings in this category are such in which the cause of dispute is very simple, the background is also very clear and there is not controversy about it but the parties are not able to come out openly but the time factor goes on accumulating complication. For example with holding of pension and other retirement benefits. Labour disputes are another category in which Lok Adalats can play healthy role. The machinery of conciliation and amicable settlements available under the Industrial dispute Legislations which has been generally successful in resolving needless conflicts Lok Adalats would be a better form even in some service disciplinary matters.

Other forms of Lok-Adalats:

  1. Mini Lok Adalat: Legal aid camps or Lok-Adalats at sub-district level and in villages are like forums, functioning in rural areas especially to cater to rural and tribal people competently and at their door steps to resolve disputes with all the expediency.
  2. Village Courts: These are units of self government they are like village Panchayats administration is a state subject hence state Panchayats Raj institutions enactments come into play, giving rise to village courts under articles 40 of our Constitution.
  3. Mediation Centre’s: These mediating Centres’s were started in the year 1983 in Tamil Nadu legal aid and advice Board.
  4. Centre’s for women: To give a special status to women and their exclusive problems Tamil Nadu state gave thrust and expansion to women mediation Centre’s by starting such Centre’s exclusively for women their role is to deal with matrimonial problems. They also help in setting disputes involving women. They promote nights of women family matters get special attention of;
    a) Voluntary agencies
    b) Professionals.
  5. Mobile Lok Adalats are also organized in various parts of the country which travel from one location to another to resolve disputes in order to facilitate the resolution of disputes through this mechanism.

Conclusion:
Lok Adalat is very effective in settlement of money claims. Disputes like partition suits, damages and matrimonial cases can also be easily settled before Lok Adalat, as the scope for compromise through an approach of give and take is high in these cases. A Lok Adalat can take up civil cases (including marriage, and family disputes) and compoundable criminal cases

.First time lok adalat was held in Gujrat in 1999. It is a forum where cases pending on panchayat or at pre litigation stage in a court of law are settled. They have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

Under this Act, the award (decision) made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be a case of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law. If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat (though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award), they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction.

Reference:
  1. https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lok_Adalat.
  3. https://blog.ipleaders.in/lok-adalats-india-speedy-justice/.
  4. S. K. Sarkar, Law Relating to Lok Adalats and Legal Aid: Being Commentary on the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 with Central & State Rules,(Oriented Publishing, Ist Edn., 2004).

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