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An Analysis On The Effectiveness Of Lok Adalats In India And The Measures That Can Be Taken To Increase Their Efficiency

Lok Adalat means 'the court of the people'. It is a unique form of alternate dispute resolution mechanism "which seeks to amicably settle disputes between the party by combining Negotiation, mediation and arbitration". With the exceptional set of conditions posed by India, there is a need for a justice system which can address these problems and can help achieve our constitutional goal of equal access to justice to all.

Through this paper I wish to establish the effectiveness of Lok Adalat in India and opine the measures that can be taken to improve its efficiency. I will maintain this argument by determining the vital role it plays in India and its contribution to the world ADR jurisprudence, by analysing its effectiveness on the grounds of disposal of disputes, cost- effectiveness, quality of justice, frequency, popularity among the general public, availability, flexibility and finally by way of analysing its scope for improvement in order to expand its proficiency.

Lok Adalats are no more an experiment in this country and have in fact become an achievement and an Indian contribution to the world ADR jurisprudence. Lok Adalat when analyses on various grounds can definitely be considered to be a success. However, in order for it to reach its full potential it is important that the system with the support of the judiciary, the government and the general population brings about the required changes.

" Justice delayed is justice denied " -William E Gladstone

"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 amicably."[1] As the name suggests Lok meaning people and Adalat meaning court, it is the people's court established by the government based on the principles of 'justice, equity and fair play'. It is a combination of three different customary ADR mechanisms i.e. negotiation, mediation and arbitration.

"Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to a set of practices and techniques aimed at permitting the resolution of legal disputes outside the courts. It is normally thought to encompass mediation, arbitration, and a variety of "hybrid" processes by which a neutral facilitates the resolution of legal disputes without formal adjudication."[2]

Lok Adalats i.e. amicable settlements outside the courts by a third part, is not a new concept in India. This method of conciliated settlements has been used for centuries in India by Gram Panchayats and Nyaya Panchayats facilitated by village elders. This Idea was also used by the Britishers during the colonial rule as a way to contain the public voice. Currently, however changes have been extensively made to this pre-existing form of alternate dispute resolution which has given exceptional results.

Studies have shown Lok Adalat to be the most proficient ADR mechanism in India as this mechanism of ADR has managed to successfully recognize and address a large portion of the issues which are being faced by the people of our country in the process of accessing justice. The first lok Adalat was organized in 1982 in Gujarat.[3]Later followed by the formation of Lok Nyayalayas in Maharashtra and in the due course spreading all over the country with the purpose if demolishing the long queue's to justice.

Lok Adalats were bestowed with statutory recognition in 1987 with the implementation of The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.[4] This act was established with an aim to provide competent legal services and to overcome the socio-economic issues inhibiting the opportunity to access justice. The legal services authority act, under section 19 formed legal services authorities at National, state and district levels conferring them with powers to organize lok Adalats.

Section 20 of the act gave specifications for the conditions under which cases can be referred to lok Adalat. Section 21 and section 22 of the act presented them with powers to pass awards and conduct proceedings respectively. The act was amended in 2002, to make establishment of permanent Lok Adalats compulsory. Changes were also made in section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure which enabled the courts to refer cases to Lok Adalat.

Lok Adalats can be divided into three categories[5] i.e. National Lok Adalats, Permanent Lok Adalats and mobile Lok Adalats. National Lok Adalats are the kind of Lok Adalats organized in all courts across the nation at systemic intervals in a single day. The second form of Lok Adalats are the mobile Lok Adalats which travels to different locations of the nation to enable making this system of justice accessible in remote areas.

Finally, there are permanent Lok Adalats. These Lok Adalats are given a permanent status under section 22 of the Legal Services Authorities amendment Act, 2002. They are given the jurisdiction to pass awards even on failure of the parties to come to a settlements. These awards are binding on both the parties with no provision of appeals with respect to these awards and the jurisdiction is only limited to ten lakhs.

Measures have been taken to ensure that this ADR mechanism is available to everyone across the country. Lok Adalats consist of 3 members i.e. a judicial official who can either be already retired or is currently working and 2 other members which act as conciliators, these conciliators can professionally be lawyers, social service representatives and need not be legal representatives. They have the jurisdiction to settle disputes and pass awards in referred cases either pending before any court or are currently in a pre- litigation stage. The awards passed by these Lok Adalats are considered similar to the decree passed by the civil court alongside being binding to both the parties with no provision available for an appeal against the award passed.

Significance of Lok Adalats

Lok Adalats have strengthened alternate dispute resolution in India by helping the citizens of this country in overcoming procedural, operational and economical barriers which were hindering their right to access justice. The reason behind the immense and the increased popularity of the Lok Adalats in India is due to the fact that this mechanism of ADR seeks to address some of the major concerns faced by the Indian legal system by not only providing justice to those individuals which were unable to access it due to a number of geo-political factors but also by providing it at a much faster pace making access to justice possible in its true sense.

The parties seeking a faster way to receive justice can turn to Lok Adalats as unlike the lengthy procedures followed in the conventional courtrooms they provide justice at a much faster pace. The procedure designed for settling disputes in Lok Adalats is less time consuming. The process of seeking justice through Lok Adalats is not only fast track but also much more cost effective as there is no requirement of paying court fees or to hire a legal professional.

The entire procedure is also transparent to a great extent and also minimizes the use of legal procedures at the time of settling disputes. This dispute regulation mechanism does away with the cumbersome and confusing court procedures and focuses to resolve dispute in a litigant friendly manner. The reason for this is the very foundation upon which Lok Adalat is based on i.e. the law of equity.

Lok Adalats are also very often referred to as the justice system which reaches out to the people in need of justice instead of the people having to coming to it. This is because this ADR mechanism aims to settle disputes at a grassroot level by identifying cases in different areas and organizing Lok Adalats in those areas and also has a separate form of Lok Adalats called the mobile Lok Adalats to make this possible.

This helps achieve the constitutional goal of making justice accessible to all by making justice accessible to even those living in remote areas of the country or the poverty-stricken individuals who unable to afford the cost of the court fees alongside travelling long distances to approach the justice systems.

Lok Adalat means 'the court of the people'. As indicated by the name, this mechanism ensures to prioritize the needs of the people. It achieves this goal by allowing the parties to the dispute to directly settle the dispute without any intervention of unnecessary representation i.e. lawyers, clerks, etc. It ensures that the parties to the dispute receives full opportunity to represent themselves, that the settlements are made amicably and that at no point either of the two parties are coerced into settling.

The introduction of Lok Adalat within the legal system of India has also benefitted the courts by reducing the number of pending cases. This alternate dispute resolution mechanism has not just managed to gain popularity among the litigants but also among the legal functionaries.

Lok Adalat has played a crucial role in changing the shape of alternative dispute resolution in India and has also made a major contribution to the world ADR jurisprudence. This is because unlike other ADR mechanism Lok Adalat is an innovative approach to ADR which combines three different ADR mechanisms i.e. Negotiation, mediation and arbitration to settle disputes alongside addressing the issues being faced by the general public while accessing the legal institutions and then finally delivering justice at a much faster pace.

Critical Analysis On Effectiveness Of Lok Adalats

The efficiency and effectiveness of this ADR mechanism can be determined by evaluating it on the grounds of disposal of disputes, cost- effectiveness , frequency of organization, popularity among the general public, availability, flexibility and the quality of justice provided by it.

A report published by the department of justice in 2013 reported settlement of approximately 4.35 crore cases by eleven lakh Lok adalats since the commencement of Lok Adalats.[6] Another report by the ministry of law and justice in 2018, recounted that on an average more than fifty lakh cases were settled by national lok adalats in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. This report

also stated that the Indian states which recorded disposal of less than twenty thousand cases yearly managed to dispose of approximately one lakh cases yearly with the help of Lok Adalats.[7] In an article published by the times of India in February, disposal of approximately 125 crore cases till February, 2020 were reported.[8]

A study on 'evaluation of Lok Adalats in Rajasthan' also found a positive relation between the number of lok adalats organised and the cases solved.[9]A research conducted in the state of Goa reported Lok Adalats to rank first as the most preferred dispute resolution alternative.[10] The same research also found out That the time consuming and cumbersome procedures of the adversarial systems have increased the need for an alternate dispute mechanism in the country.

This need appears to be fulfilled through lok Adalats as they have managed to tackle a wide range of socio-economic problems which are being faced by the litigants. This mechanism has also received constant support from the judiciary in order to strengthen it. The study also found a connection between organisation of lok adalats at regular intervals and an increase in intensity and affectively of the mechanism to settle dispute.

It was also highlighted in the study that the number of cases directly approaching the Lok Adalats compared to the number of cases directed to the Lok Adalats by the courts were much lower signalling that the concept of alternate dispute settlement though slowly gaining popularity, is still new and less acceptable to the people in comparison to the adversarial justice system.

A trend was also observed in the majority of the cases approaching the Lok Adalats to be specific to civil matters even though there is no restriction on the nature of cases that can be taken up by Lok Adalat. Elements like waiver and refund of court fees appeared to encourage parties to approach Lok Adalats to a certain extent as it reduced the litigation cost to a great extent. The effort of judiciary and the legal services authority has also played a major role in strengthening this system.

Alongside the positive impact of lok adalats the research also highlighted the inadequate aspects of this system. Concerns among the litigants, were reported, regarding the unavailability of the option to appeal for the award passed by the permanent lok adalats. There have also been instances where the enforcement of awards were delayed.

Lok Adalats have been vested with the power to pass awards. These awards are equivalent to decrees or the orders passed by the civil court. However, they only have the power to pass awards and have no power over the execution of these awards.

In order to enforce the execution of these awards the party has to apply to the civil court, taking away the power from the Lok Adalats to see the execution of these awards to their finality. The jurisdiction of Lok Adalats for criminal offences is also limited to cognizable offences which removes from its purview other small offences like petty theft limiting the scope of these Adalats. The other concerns regarding the efficiency of Lok Adalats were the doubts with respect to the qualificational requirements of the members of the permanent Lok Adalats.

The only member in the Lok Adalats from a legal background is the chairman whereas, other recruited members of this system are the representatives of social organizations. The Phraseology of the recruitment requirement "adequate experience in the public utility service" is ambiguous and affects the confidence of the litigants in the authorities in charge of their case. This necessitates the need to have a specific and explicit recruitment requirement.

Based on the above mentioned analysis it is safe to conclude that the Lok Adalats in India have proven to be an effective alternate dispute resolution mechanism to the overburdened adversarial justice system. However, There is still a requirement to expand its efficiency.

Measures Which Should Be Taken To Expand The Efficiency Of Lok Adalats

The Lok Adalat scheme has managed to garner an incredible amount of support from both the national and the international community. It has also managed to achieve staggering success in India so far. However, there are still certain aspects in this dispute resolution mechanism that require improvement and government support. Based on the above analysis and the report published by the department of justice to the 14th finance commission the following changes can be incorporated.[11]

As explained before, Lok Adalats have been conferred with the power to pass awards. However they only have the power to pass awards and have no power to execute these awards. The party needs to apply to the civil court in order to enforce the execution of these awards. This lack of power of the Lok Adalat negates the whole attempt of simplifying and making justice more accessible in turn affecting the credibility and increasing the complexity of this mechanism.

Therefore, it is important to provide the lok adalats with the power to execute the awards it passes. Changes should also be made in widening the jurisdiction of the Lok Adalats in criminal offences by bringing within its purview petty criminal offences. Lok Adalats in order to work efficiently alongside the formal justice system must ensure to bring about the required changes every six months to meet the requirements of the emerging branches of law.

Efforts must also be made to increase the number of Lok Adalats being held and increasing the participation of the retired judicial officers. Notice must also be given in the administrative functioning of lok adalats. Matters concerning Lok Adalats are often viewed as an additional work by the judicial workers which often results in these matters getting overlooked. Hence, it is important to include these matters within the integral part of their work.

Focus must also be placed on normalising the use of alternate dispute mechanism. Even with the increase in the use of Lok Adalats, the non-adversarial methods to solve disputes are still not viewed as the mainstream way to seek justice. This results in the public to hesitate while approaching lok adalats. Efforts must also be made to organise more mobile Lok Adalats. Currently the schedule of when a Lok Adalat is organised is irregular. It is important to develop a proper schedule with specified dates mentioned in order to provide a systemic predictability and to increase the convenience for the litigants.

There is also a need to provide infrastructural support to lok Adalats which must not only include adequate infrastructure and space but also sufficient staff with proper training. Data could be maintained containing information regarding cases which were referred under section 20 of NLSA. Maintaining a data would help assess problems in the system giving way to more effective changes.

Consideration should also be given in streamlining the Lok Adalat related work with the other work of judicial officers as a special component. This additional work must be assessed and the judicial officers must be provided with additional benefits like monetary benefits. This will ensure that the work related to Lok Adalat does not get sidelined increasing the efficiency of this mechanism.

Taking into consideration the extreme conditions prevailing within the Indian society, there is a need for an efficient justice system in India which aims to reduce the complexities of the legal machinery and simplifies the process of accessing justice with the ability to tackle the country's tremendous population, high illiteracy rate and poverty. The system must diminish the anxiety concerning the legal machinery instilled among the minds of the people and must inculcate in them more confidence for it.

Lok Adalat as an alternative dispute mechanism is no more an experiment in this country and has in fact become an achievement and an Indian contribution to the world ADR jurisprudence. This instrument has the tendencies to bring about change in the society and to deliver equity in the process of accessing justice and in lawful activation.

This system of dispute resolution has managed to increase the possibility of bridging the gap between the legal machinery and the people as well as reduced the burden on the courts.

Despite its immense achievement there is still a need for enhancement / advancement in this mechanism. In order to expand its proficiency and to make this a complete success there is need for a collective effort by the government, the judiciary, the legal representatives and the general public to work amicably.

Based on the significance and the analysis of this alternate dispute redressal mechanism on several grounds Lok Adalat truly be considered a success. However, in order for it to reach its full potential it is important the system with the support of judiciary and government brings about the necessary changes.

End-Notes:

  1. Lok Adalat. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat
  2. Mnookin, R. (1998). Alternative Dispute Resolution. ResearchGate. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/30504345_Alternative_Dispute_Resolution
  3. Lok Adalat. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat
  4. Lok Adalat. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat
  5. Lok Adalat. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat
  6. Department of Justice. (2015). Proposal of Department of Justice to Fourteenth Finance Commission. Retrieved from https://doj.gov.in/sites/default/files/Proposal-14th-Finance-Commission_0.pdf
  7. The Times Of India . (2018). Lok Adalats dispose of over 50 lakh cases across country every year. New Delhi . Retrieved from
  8. https://epaper.timesgroup.com/Olive/ODN/TimesOfIndia/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=TOIDEL/2018/02/15&entity=Ar01508&sk=DDE56E86&mode=text#
  9. Times Of India . (2020). National Lok Adalat Disposes 125 Crore . Mumbai. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/National-Lok-Adalat-Disposes-125-Crore-Cases
  10. Sharma, S. (2015). Evaluation Of Lok Adalats In Rajasthan: An Empirical Study(2nd ed., Vol. 3). European Centre for Research Training and Development UK . Retrieved from http://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/Evaluation-of-Lok-Adalats-in-Rajasthan-An-Empirical-Study2.pdf
  11. Couto, K. R. (2014). Enhancing Access To Justice In Goa Through Lok Adalats : A Critical Legal Study. Taleigo Plateau, Goa: Goa University. Retrieved from http://irgu.unigoa.ac.in/drs/bitstream/handle/unigoa/4492/couto_k_r_2014.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  12. Department of Justice. (2015). Proposal of Department of Justice to Fourteenth Finance Commission. Retrieved from https://doj.gov.in/sites/default/files/Proposal-14th-Finance-Commission_0.pdf

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