1. Introduction And Brief History
The concept of conciliated settlement of disputes is not alien to the traditional Indian culture and social life. Nyaya Panchayats and Gram Panchayat provided seats for resolving the disputes in rural areas on an immediate basis. Generally, any crime or civil dispute used to be resolved within the village itself. Either village elders or caste elders or family elders used to facilitate the process.
The introduction of Lok Adalats added a new chapter to the justice dispensation system of this country and succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the victims for satisfactory settlement of their disputes. This system is based on Gandhian principles. It is one of the components of ADR systems. It is an Indian contribution to the world jurisprudence of ADR. Lok Adalat (people’s courts), established by the government settles dispute by the principles of justice, equity and fair play, which are the guiding factors for decisions based on compromises to be arrived at before such Adalats.
The camps of Lok Adalats were initially started in the state of Gujarat in 1982. The first Lok Adalat was organized on 14th March 1982 at Junagarh. Maharashtra commenced the Lok Nyayalaya in 1984. The movement has now subsequently spread to the entire country. The reason to create such camps was only the pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in a queue to get justice.
2. Statutory Provisions
Eminent judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have many a time emphasized the need for free legal aid to the poor. Legal Aid is a kind of human right in the context of conflicts and contradictory interests. The Central Government, taking note of the need for legal aid for the poor and the needy, had introduced Article 39 (A) in the Constitution in February 1977.
Article 39 A of the Constitution of India provides for equal justice and free legal aid. It is, therefore clear that the State has been ordained to secure a legal system, which promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. The language of Article-39 A is understood in mandatory terms. This is made more than clear by the use of the word “shall” in Art-39 A.
It is emphasized that the legal system should be able to deliver justice expeditiously on the basis of equal opportunity and provide free legal aid to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizens by reasons of economic or other disabilities. It was in this context that the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 has been enacted by the Parliament. One of the aims of this Act is to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. Chapter VI of the Act deals with Lok Adalats. The Act created National, State and District Legal Service Authorities with the power to organize Lok Adalats.
The poor and resourceless persons need justice, they require for that, an access to justice. Mere recognition of rights does not help them, without providing for necessary infrastructure to secure them justice whenever needed. Even if the infrastructure is created, if he does not get the ‘legal aid’ to reach it, the purpose of entire justice system suffers a defeat.
In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court observed:
Today, unfortunately, in our country the poor are priced out of the judicial system with the result that they are losing faith in the capacity of our legal system to bring about changes in their life conditions and to deliver justice to them. The poor in their contact with the legal system have always been on the wrong side of the line. They have always come across “law for the poor” rather than “law of the poor”. The law is regarded by them as something mysterious and forbidding--always taking something away from them and not as a positive and constructive social device for changing the social economic order and improving their life conditions by conferring rights and benefits on them. The result is that the legal system has lost its credibility for the weaker section of the community. It is, therefore, necessary that we should inject equal justice into legality and that can be done only by dynamic and activist scheme of legal services.
3. Cases Suitable For Lok Adalats
Lok Adalats have competence to deal with a number of cases like:
· Compoundable civil, revenue and criminal cases.
· Motor accident compensation claims cases
· Partition Claims
· Damages Cases
· Matrimonial and family disputes
· Mutation of lands case
· Land Pattas cases
· Bonded Labour cases
· Land acquisition disputes
· Bank’s unpaid loan cases
· Arrears of retirement benefits cases
· Family Court cases
· Cases which are not sub-judice
4. Cognizance Of Cases By Lok Adalats
A Lok Adalat may take cognizance of cases, as per Section 20 of the Legal Services Authority Act where:
(I) (a) the parties thereof agree; or
(b) one of the parties thereof makes an application to the court for referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement and if such court is prima facie satisfied that there are chances of such settlement; or
(II) the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken 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 by such court except after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
5. Need For Lok Adalats
Justice Ramaswamy says: “ Resolving disputes through Lok Adalat not only minimizes litigation expenditure, it saves valuable time of the parties and their witnesses and also facilitates inexpensive and prompt remedy appropriately to the satisfaction of both the parties”
Law Courts in India face mainly four problems:
· The number of courts and judges in all grades are alarmingly inadequate
· Increase in flow of cases in recent years due to multifarious Acts enacted by the Central and State Governments
· The high cost involved in prosecuting or defending a case in a court of law, due to heavy court fee, lawyer's fee and incidental charges
· Delay in disposal of cases resulting in huge pendency in all the courts
Lok Adalat has a positive contributory role in the administration of justice. It supplements the efforts and work of the courts. Area of contribution chosen for the purpose specially concerns and helps the common man, the poor, backward and the needy-most sections of the society.
6. Advantages Of Lok Adalats
6.1 Speedy Justice And Saving From The Lengthy Court Procedures
Lok adalats ensure speedier justice because it can be conducted at suitable places, arranged very fast, in local languages too, even for the illiterates.
The procedural laws and the Evidence Act are not strictly followed while assessing the merits of the claim by the Lok Adalat. Hence, Lok Adalats are also known as “People’s Festivals of Justice”
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.
6.2 Justice At No Cost
Abraham Lincoln has observed:
"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbours to compromise wherever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser - in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."
Lok Adalat is the only institutionalized mechanism of dispute resolution in which the parties do not have to bear any expenses.
There is no court fee in Lok Adalat. If the case is already filed in the regular court, the fee paid is refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act if the dispute is settled at the Lok Adalat. This kind of refund is an incentive given to parties to negotiate for settlement. Lok Adalat is a boon to the litigant public, where they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost.
Denial of free legal services to the poor accused persons or under trial prisoners would vitiate the principle of “reasonable, just and fair” procedure which is implied in the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
In Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, the Apex Court held that failure to provide free legal aid to an accused at the State’s cost would vitiate the trial. The Court has set aside the conviction of an accused on the ground that he was not provided with legal aid at the time of his trial and thus there was violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.
6.3 Solving Problems Of Backlog Cases
Delivering the inaugural address at a seminar on judicial reforms, the President said: “Delays render the common man’s knock on the temple of justice a frustrating experience. Litigants are not able to lead normal lives being unsure of the verdict in their case.’’ Terming the pending cases as an “explosion of litigation,” she said the current figures reveal that the arrears in HCs exceeded 40 lakh cases and in subordinate courts 270 lakh.
The curse of backlogs in India is well known and Andhra Pradesh High Court judge Justice V V Rao has gone on to say that it will take 320 years for the Indian Judiciary to clear its backlog.
In a Lok Adalat, if a compromise is reached, an award is made and is binding on the parties. It is enforced as a decree of a civil court. An important aspect is that the award is final and cannot be appealed, not even under Article 226 because it is a judgment by consent. All proceedings of a Lok Adalat are deemed to be judicial proceedings and every Lok Adalat is deemed to be a Civil Court. Section 25 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 provides that the provisions of the act have an overriding effect notwithstanding anything which is inconsistent with any other law.
In Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai, an appeal was filed under S. 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure against the award made by a Lok Adalat. The question before the court was whether such can appeal is maintainable. So in this case it was iterated that “an appeal would not lie under the provisions of Section 96 C.P.C. Lok Adalat is conducted under an independent enactment and once the award is made by Lok Adalat the right of appeal shall be governed by the Legal Services Authority Act.” It has been specifically mentioned in S. 21(2) that no appeal shall die against an order of a Lok Adalat.
Further, in Board of Trustees of the Port of Visakhapatnam v. Presiding Officer, Permanent, Lok Adalat-cum-Secretary, District Legal Services Authority, Visakhapatnam and Anr., , it was observed that the award is enforceable as a decree and it is final. The endeavor is only to see that the disputes are narrowed down and make the final settlement so that the parties are not again driven to further litigation or any dispute.
The scheme also helps the overburdened Courts to alleviate the burden of arrears of cases and as the award becomes final and binding on both the parties, no appeal is filed in the Appellate Court and, as such, the burden of the Appellate Court in hierarchy is also reduced. Hence, to alleviate the accumulation of cases, the Lok Adalat is the need of the day.
6.4 Maintenance Of Cordial Relations
The main thrust of Lok Adalats is on compromise. When no compromise is reached, the matter goes back to the court. While conducting the proceedings, a Lok Adalat acts as a conciliator and not as an arbitrator. Its role is to persuade the parties to hit upon a solution and help in reconciling the contesting differences. Lok Adalat cannot decide the issues nor can it influence or force the parties to decide in a particular way. It encourages consensual arrangements. It is not possible for lok adalat to decide upon any issue not acceptable to any of the parties.
Lok Adalats are also required to follow the principles of natural justice and other legal principles. In Kishan Rao v. Bidar District Legal Services Authority, the question raised was whether the Lok Adalat could pass a decree when all the parties had not appeared before the Lok Adalat nor had notice been issued to them. The Karnataka High Court interpreted Section 20(3) of the Legal Services Authorities Act to hold that all the parties to the suit must be present if the compromise was to be a valid one. Thus the impugned decree was struck down as being a nullity by reason of violation of natural justice..
In Lok Adalats, disputes are not only settled but also the cordial relations between the parties are retained as disputes are resolved amicably. Hence, it is a very healthy way of dispute resolution.
Lok Adalats, as it has been again and again iterated throughout the paper, serve very crucial functions in a country due to many factors like pending cases, illiteracy etc. The Lok Adalat was a historic necessity in a country like India where illiteracy dominated about all aspects of governance. The most desired function of lok adalats may seem to be clearing the backlog, with the latest report showing 3 crore pending cases in Indian courts but the other functions cannot be ignored. The concept of Lok Adalat has been a success in practice.
Lok Adalats play a very important role to advance and strengthen “equal access to justice”, the heart of the Constitution of India, a reality. This Indian contribution to world ADR jurisprudence needs to be taken full advantage of. Maximum number of Lok Adalats need to be organized to achieve the Gandhian Principle of Gram Swaraj and “access to justice for all”.
# Dr. SR Myneni, Arbritation, Conciliation, and ADR Systems, Asia Law House, 2009-10
# Madhabhushi Sridhar, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Lexis Nexis ,2006
# AIR 1979 SC 1369
# After the failure of first counseling and before the start of trial
# R D Rajan, A Primer on Alternative Dispute Resolution, Barathi Law House, 2005
# Justice B.L. Loomba, Role of Lok Adalats, http://www.allahabadhighcourt.in/event/roleoflokadalats.html
# Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan, Lok Adalat: an effective alternative dispute resolution mechanism, APH Publishing, 2006
# (1986) 2 SCC 401
# President tells judiciary to clear backlog of cases, Deccan Herald, New Delhi, July 31, 2010
# Courts will take 320 years to clear backlog cases: Justice Rao, The Times of India, Hyderabad, March 06, 2010
# AIR 2000 MP 301
# 2000 (5) ALT 577
# Supra note 1 at Pg. 2
# AIR 2001 Kant 407
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