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Role Of Permanent Lok Adalat (Public Utility Services ) As A Means Of Alternative & Efficacious Dispute Settlement Mechanism

The Legal Services Authority Act 1987 was enacted to constitute legal services authorities for providing free and competent legal services to the 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's to ensure that the operation of the legal system promoted justice on a basis of equal opportunity.

However, the major drawback in the existing system of organization of Lok Adalat's under Chapter VI of the said Act is mainly based on either compromise or settlement between the parties In case compromise or settlement failed between the parties than the usual recourse available to the parties is to approach the regular Courts for proper adjudication of their disputes which as a result causes unreasonable delay in dispensation of Justice.

In order to remove this difficulty amendment done to the Legal Services Authority Act vide Legal Services Authority Amendment Act 2002 with effect from 11/06/2002. The said amendment provided for establishment of Permanent Lok Adalat's which shall consist of a Chairman who is or has been a district Judge or additional district judge or has held judicial office higher on rank than that of district judge and two other persons to be appointed as members having adequate experience in public utility services.

The PLA (PUS) shall have jurisdictions to decide and adjudicate dispute pertaining to public transport services, postal, telegraph, health services, municipal services, electricity, water and other public services related matters later it included some real estate disputes and banking services, insurance dispute etc. It has pecuniary jurisdiction to decide disputes where the valuation of the subject matter does not exceed 25 lakhs.

Where it appears to the permanent Lok Adalat that their exists elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, it shall formulate the terms of a possible settlement and submit them to the parties for their observations and in case the parties reach an agreement the Permanent Lok Adalat shall decide the dispute on merits and every award passed by the Permanent Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on the parties and shall be by majority of the persons constituting the Permanent Lok Adalat.

Scope:
Idea Of Setting Up Of PLA (PUS)
  • To reduce the work load of the regular courts
  • To overcome the drawbacks of existing Lok Adalat's
  • To deal with pre-litigation, conciliation and settlement of disputes relating to Public Utility Services [Chapter VIA introduced in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 w.e.f. 11th June 2002 for this purpose].
By virtue of the different provisions of the aforesaid legislation and the rules framed there under at present the Constitutional Provision Article 39A, is given effect to, the possible extent. This is a piece of legislation which deals with several aspects relating to provide legal aid to the poor and down trodden in the society and also the organization of Lok Adalat's, etc. Thus, the legislation is a social welfare legislation and if the provisions are implemented on sound lines, definitely proper help will be rendered to the poor and down trodden.

Powers:
  • The Lok Adalat shall have the same powers as are vested in a Civil Court under the Code of Civil Procedure (1908).
  • Further, a Lok Adalat shall have the requisite powers to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
  • All proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of the Indian Penal Code (1860) and every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for the purpose of the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973).
  • An award of a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a Civil Court or an order of any other court.
  • Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute. No appeal shall lie to any court against the award of the Lok Adalat.

Benefits:
  • There is no court fee and if court fee is already paid the amount will be refunded if the dispute is settled at Lok Adalat.
  • There is procedural flexibility and speedy trial of the disputes. There is no strict application of procedural laws while assessing the claim by Lok Adalat.
  • The parties to the dispute can directly interact with the judge through their counsel which is not possible in regular courts of law.
  • The award by the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties and it has the status of a decree of a civil court and it is non-appealable, which does not cause the delay in the settlement of disputes finally.

Free legal aid is a right of the needy, so that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen on account of economic, social or other disabilities. The Act thus envisages statutory machineries to provide legal aid to the poor and also to organise Lok Adalat's as a voluntary and conciliatory agency to settle the cases not only at the litigation stage, but even at the prelitigation stage. The LAs aim at taking justice to the doorsteps of the poor and needy and at enabling quicker dispensation of justice at lesser costs.

History of Lok Adalat:
The advent of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalat's. Even before the enforcement of the Act, the concept of Lok Adalat has been getting wide acceptance as People's Courts as the very name signifies. Settlement of disputes at the hands of Panchayat Heads or tribal heads was in vogue since ancient times. When statutory recognition had been given to Lok Adalat, it was specifically provided that the award passed by the Lok Adalat formulating the terms of compromise will have the force of decree of a court which can be executed as a civil court decree.

During the last few years Lok Adalat has been found to be a successful tool of alternate dispute resolution in India. It is most popular and effective because of its innovative nature and inexpensive style. The system received wide acceptance not only from the litigants, but from the public and legal functionaries in general. In India, during the last few years Lok Adalat has been functioning continuously and permanently in every district centre. In taluk centres also sittings of Lok Adalat's have been held successfully. Several thousands of pending cases and disputes which had not reached law courts have been settled through Lok Adalat's.

Lord Denning observed that since second world war, the greatest revolution in the law has been the mechanism and evolution of the system of Legal Aid and it is a fundamental right. The finest hour of justice is the hour of compromise when parties after burying the hatchet, reunite by a reasonable and just compromise.

Issues Challenges:
  1. Lack of Public Awareness about this mode of Alternative Dispute Resolution.
  2. Vacancy in Chairperson and Member Posts in PLA (PUS), no steps taken by the Govt to recruit full time Chairperson and Members.
  3. Lack of rigid time tables for functioning of the PLA (PUS) Court) and no proper check and balances done to regulate the activity of the officials appointed for proper functioning of the PLA (PUS).
  4. Lack of e-facilitation center available for PLA (PUS) Courts and its functioning through online mode as it is now a days adopted and done by Regular Courts. i.e., e-filing, virtual hearing etc.
  5. Some cases pending at PLA (PUS) takes longer than two to three years or even more than that and still not yet disposed. (By this the very purpose of establishing the PLA PUS Courts gets frustrated as the aim is to give speedy justice by adopting summary procedure which provides to dispose the case within three months from the date of filing which was not done and followed in practical sense by the PLA PUS.

Suggestions to Govt in order to make arrangements for Proper Functioning of the PLA (PUS):
That the Govt. should make vast arrangements on regular basis to sensitize and aware the citizens to avail and approach PLA (PUS) for getting speedy and efficacious alternative dispute resolution. No Fixed or standard format should be maintained by the PLA (PUS) pertaining to the application /complain format and PLA Courts should give flexibility regarding written application and documents filing to the complainants and applicants & Opp.Parties who approach them for redressal of their grievance.

The PLA (PUS) courts should function on all working days as it is done in other govt establishments, and in case of vacancy in any post of the PLA PUS than immediate steps be taken to fill up the same within one day or two, so that poor litigants should not suffer by waiting for an indefinite period as it is done now a days as most for the PLA (PUS) Courts are defunct due to vacancy of the Chairperson & member Posts.

Full time Chairperson and Members should be appointed by bringing necessary amendments to the existing Acts and Rules pertaining to appointment of Chairperson and members Post in PLA PUS. Advocate having Minimum 10 years practice should be appointed as Chairperson and Members instead of Retired Judicial officers not below the Rank of District Judge, who are around 60 years of age and above and practically they are prone to many life style diseases and physically unfit to carry on their day-to-day work.

As retired persons are appointed and they on attending the age of 63 years automatically superannuates as chairman of PLA PUS as maximum age to continue as a chairman is 63 years hence by this system it was prone to create vacancy which cannot be fulfilled within a short span of time. For appointment to the post of Chairperson & Members, Competitive exam be done for recruitment to the full-time post of PLA PUS as chairman and member and young and energetics persons should be preferred as candidature than the old and physically unfit one.

E-Facilitation Counter should be opened near every PLA (PUS) Courts and adequate numbers of staffs should be made available within all working days and hours to facilitate the litigants for e-filling their complaints and also providing virtual hearing facilities to all litigants and parties. Adequate measure by taken by govt to dispose of every case as filed before the PLA PUS within 90 days from the date of filing and proper legal audit and checks be done to ensure the same and stringent action be taken against the erring officials who causes delay in disposal of cases.

Written By: Chinmoy Patra Advocate - Orissa High Court
Email: [email protected] / [email protected], Ph no: 9861076210 /7008846740

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