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Lok Adalats – Critical Examination under Alternate Dispute Resolution Law

Introduction

Alternate Dispute Resolution (or ADR) is a mechanism used to ease out the burden of courts by resolving them through various different modes like mediation, conciliation, arbitration, negotiation and Lok Adalats. Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 (hereinafter “LSA”) provides for constitution and formation of Lok Adalats which is the form of ADR having traits of arbitration, mediation and conciliation. The Parties to dispute amicably come before Lok Adalat to settle their case where the Bench acts as a mediator and aids them to settle the matter through conciliation and such settlement if agreed by both parties is made binding upon them.

Lok Adalats are constituted in consonance with the provisions of Article 39-A of Indian Constitution which provides for equal justice and free legal aid forming part of Directive Principles of State Policy. They are organized to protect and promote justice based on equal opportunity. Lok Adalats are strategized to decrease the burden of courts and to give relief to every citizen who are waiting for justice to be imparted.

Meaning and Organization of Lok Adalat

The term Lok Adalat generally means People’s Court. These are not like any other formal courts but are special forums where any case pending before the courts from a very long time or any other matter falling within the jurisdiction of that Lok Adalat but never brought before the court can be put up for settlement[1].

Lok Adalat may be organized by State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court/High Court Legal Services Committee at any place and interval and having such jurisdiction as it thinks fit. It shall constitute of the retired or serving judicial officers or any other person whom the organizing authority thinks fit.[2] Other members of Lok Adalat shall be as prescribed by Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India[3]. Lok Adalats can be composed at different levels like State authority level, High Court level,  District Court level and Taluka level depending upon the authority organizing it[4].

Award of Lok Adalat

The decision made by the Lok Adalat is known as Award and is final and binding upon the parties. The award must be followed by the parties and if the Lok ADalat does not make an award or  the parties are not satisfied by the decision of Lok Adalat they cannot appeal in any court[5] as there is no provision related to this, however, the case shall go back to the court that referred it to the Lok Adalat and the proceeding will continue from the stage where it was left before reference was made to the Lok Adalat[6].

Court Fee

The matter under Lok Adalat does not require any court fees, and if the parties have already paid any court fees to the court before coming to Lok Adalat, that court fees is refunded to the parties after the settlement.

Types of Lok Adalat

1) National Lok Adalat- The national Lok Adalat are ones that are held at regular intervals on a specified date all over the nation at all levels starting from State authority level to the Taluka level.

2) Permanent Lok Adalat[7] – These are established under section 22-B as permanent bodies with a chairman and two members who provide a pre-litigative mechanism for settlement of matters relating to public utility services like, postal, transport, supply of power and light, insurance services etc. If parties fail to follow the settlement mechanism then the permanent Lok Adalat have jurisdiction to decide the matter. The decision or award passed by the permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding on parties. As per legal services authority of India, the permanent Lok Adalat has a jurisdiction not exceeding 10 lakhs.

3) Mobile Lok Adalat – Mobile Lok Adalat are organized as courts that travel from one place to another in order to help the parties in dispute reach an amicable settlement through this process.

Powers of Lok Adalat-

The Lok Adalats are vested with same powers as that of a Civil Court under Civil Procedure Code, 1908.[8] Apart from this, Lok ADalats also have to power to specify their own procedure in order to determine a dispute coming before it. So, Lok Adalats are not bound by any specific procedure and its modus operandi may vary on a case to case basis. Further, proceedings before a  Lok Adalat or a Permanent Lok Adalat are deemed to be judicial proceedings for the purposes of Ss. 193, 219 and 228 of IPC and they are deemed as civil courts for purpose of Chapter XXVII of CrPC[9].

Advantages of Lok Adalat-

The concept of Lok Adalat was evolved to reduce the burden of normal courts and thereby Lok Adalats have proved to be advantageous because they provide for an option of speedy trial and justice. Also, in Lok Adalats there is no need for a party to hire an advocate or a lawyer as there is no complex procedure because of which parties may represent themselves before the court on their own. Because of less procedure and speedy trials the Lok Adalats also have economic benefit for financially weaker section of society.

Disadvantage of Lok Adalat

The biggest disadvantage of Lok Adalat is that in the quest of speedy trial and quick resolution of disputes sometimes justice is not done with the aggrieved. This is so because the entire system of Lok Adalats is based on compromise and settlement and there are some matters that may not be resolved by mere compromise. Also when the parties are left dissatisfied by the award of Lok Adalat, there is unreasonable deferment caused in the process of law thereby causing undue delay.

Conclusion

Hence it can be concluded that Lok Adalats are undoubtedly a boon for the citizens, courts and legal system of India. It is also a ray of hope for the weaker and marginalized section of society. But it also suffers for certain drawbacks that need to be looked upon and thereby resolved.

 

[1]S. 19(5) of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[2]S. 19(1) and (2) of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[3]19(3) of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[4] S. 6 of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[5] S. 21(2) of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[6] S. 20(5) of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[7] S. 22-B of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[8] S. 21 of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987

[9] S. 22 of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987