Lok Adalat As An Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism

Lok Adalat As An Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism
  A Critical Anatomization 

Shreyali Yadav
Semester IV
Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
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.
~ justice ramaswamy ~
Lok-adalats offer an informal system for on the spot resolution of disputes, prevent disruption of local unity and secure social justice which is in tune with the life style and culture of village-folk. Justice rendered at such lok-adalats in the presence and hearing of others from the locality or village is more satisfying and nearer to the truth. With the heavy case-load in the traditional courts and time consuming process through which litigation must pass, looking for alternative modes for disposal of cases is a compelling necessity. Thus, this report will cover the aspect as to how the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism works, issues in ADR mechanism, critical evaluation of the system of Pune District Legal Service Authority & Permanent Lok Adalat and suggestions to improve the current system of Lok Adalat. Further, this report will cover the experience that was enriched during the visit to the Permanent Lok Adalat.
i. brief understanding of the adr mechanism
It is now widely accepted that our litigation process requires drastic change. This is not to minimize the role of the courts, especially the superior courts, which plays an important role in the promotion of rule of law. Except litigants who want to gain by delaying the process of justice, other people do not want to enjoy taking the recourse of litigation that takes a lot of years and a considerable amount by way of expenses. There is not any other choice but to quickly devise effective alternate options to litigation to ease the present pendency of the cases in judiciary. USA is the first country to adopt for ADR process. In light of it many other countries have adopted ADR that encourages the disputants to arrive at a negotiated understanding with a minimum of outside help.
The primary object of ADR is to avoid vexatious litigation, expense and delay and promotion of the ideal of access to justice for all. In simple words, the ADR system seeks to provide cheap, simple and quick and accessible justice to all. There are primarily four methods of ADR (Conciliation, Arbitration, Mediation and Lok Adalats. Permanent Lok Adalat has now received the statutory recognition in the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987 with amendment coming into effect in 2002. Its decision is final and no appeal lies. Simple disputes where an approach of give and take which is likely to result in settlement may be resolved in the said forum.
ii. scope & object of lok adalats
This is the system, which has deep roots in Indian legal history. Experience has shown that it is one of the very efficient and important ADRs and most suited to the Indian environment, culture and societal interests. Camps of Lok Adalats were started initially in Gujarat in March 1982 and now it has been extended throughout the Country. The evolution of this movement was a part of the strategy to relieve heavy burden on the Courts with pending cases and to give relief to the litigants who were in a queue to get justice.
II.1. lok adalats & law making power
Permanent Lok Adalats are covered under S. 22-B of the Legal Service Authorities Act 1987. S. 22 B of the Legal Service Authority Act 1987 mandates the conduction of Permanent Lok Adalats. In 2002 an amendment was made and thereby permanent Lok Adalats were established.
They have been set up as a permanent body with a Chairman and two members for providing compulsory pre – litigation mechanism for settlement of cases relating to public utility services, telegraph etc. If the parties are not able to reach into settlement through court, the Permanent Lok Adalat gets the jurisdiction to decide the dispute. The award of this court is final and binding on the parties. It has pecuniary jurisdiction of Rs. 1 crore. The Lok Adalat may conduct the proceedings in such a manner as it considers appropriate, taking into account the circumstances of the case, wishes of the parties like requests to hear oral statements, speedy settlement of dispute etc.
II.2. advent of the legal services authorities act, 1987
A Committee for implementation of legal aid scheme set up by the Government of India in exercise of its executive authority was created to serve as a coordinating and reviewing body of legal aid activities with the wider realisation that litigations in courts were mounting-up and there was considerable delay in disposal of cases which give rise to anxiety and inconvenience to the litigants, it was taken on experimental basis. Lok Adalats developed out of this experiment and soon became a regular feature. But its jurisdiction was optional. If parties agreed to subject themselves to conciliation and acceptance of its resolution on the basis of consensus so reached, the court could record a judgment. Since the decision was on consent, no challenge to it was being entertained in courts. While attention was devoted to pending cases in courts for disposal in Lok Adalats, occasional pre-litigation conciliation was also taken up and cases were settled even without reaching the court. The optional jurisdiction was considered by some as a negative factor for the efficacy of the Lok Adalats. Some ot
hers were of the view that in spite of leaving the Lok Adalats to operate by consent, a statutory basis could be provided to Lok Adalats.
The aforementioned effectuated the Legal Services Authorities Act, 39 of 1987. The advent of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalats, pursuant to the constitutional mandate in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India, contains various provisions for the settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat.
II.3. cases suitable for lok adalat
Lok Adalats have the competence to deal with a number of cases[1] like compoundable civil cases, 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 and cases which are not sub-judice.
II.4. critical evalution of system of pune district legal services authority and permanent lok adalat
With the reforms in the judicial sector under taken with necessary speed, it does not appear that courts and tribunals will be in a position to bear the entire burden of the justice system. It is incumbent on government to provide at reasonable cost as many modes of settlement of dispute as are necessary to cover the variety of disputes that arise[2]. Litigants should be encouraged to resort to Alternate Dispute Resolution so that the court system proper would be left with a smaller number of important disputes that demand judicial attention. In the present scenario, the ADR system of which Permanent Lok Adalat movement is one of the components, has assumed great importance. Permanent Lok Adalats have become a regular feature and have become a living and continuous movement. Day by day large numbers of private litigants are getting their cases heard in these courts. Public has become conscious of their rights and are availing ADR for expeditious and inexpensive disposal of their disputes.
If we look one aspect of Permanent Lok Adalat where it has ef
fectively resolved the dispute in a cost effective way and speedy manner, on the contrary there is a lot of criticism on the working of Permanent Lok Adalat. When deciding a matter under PLA it is well established that Section 22-D of the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act will not apply. Procedural laws do not bind them.  Unfortunately, the determination or decisions so arrived by PLA can be in arbitrary or summary manner[3]. Secondly, there is no point as such with regard to the right to appeal against any decision passed by this court. This was challenged in Bar Council of India v. Union of India[4], where by the petitioner who pleaded to quash the amendment as right to appeal against the order of Permanent Lok Adalat has been taken away from the parties to the dispute. The court in this case held that a statute couldn’t be rendered unconstitutional merely on the fact that no appeal is provided to an aggrieved party in a particular statute.[5]
II.5. observation of the nalsa act & permanent lok adalats
NALSA Act  provides speedy justice to the party and further the decision of the court would be binding. Otherwise the very purpose of establishment of Lok Adalat is of no use. There will be multitudinous and repetitive litigation in the court and the party after the decision of the court, aggrieved by it, may file an appeal. There is no fee applicable and therefore it acts as the purpose of providing free legal aid to the poor and needy people of the society.  The most important thing about Permanent Lok Adalat is that any Party to a dispute may make an application to the Permanent Lok-Adalat for settlement of the disputebefore the dispute is brought before any Court. Permanent Adalat has jurisdiction in respect of one or more public utility services as defined in clause (b) of Section 22A. [Legal services Authority (Amendment) Act, 2002].
II.6. significance of lok adalats in india with judicial interpretation
Lok Adalats ensure speedier justice because it can be conducted in suitable places, arranged very fast and in local languages too, hence providing for the illiterate as well. They are also known as “People’s festival of justice” for the very reason that they do not follow procedural laws strictly while assessing the merits of the claim. They are the only institutionalized mechanism of dispute resolution where the parties do not have to bear expenses, hence, proving as an incentive given to parties to negotiate for settlement. In Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh,[6]it was held that failure to provide free legal aid to an accused would vitiate the trial.
In the significant case of Abdul Hassan v Delhi Vidyut Board[7]the Delhi High Court also emphasized upon the need of setting up permanent Lok Adalat and this should be done not only with reducing the pendency of matters but also with reference to article 39 – A of the constitution. It was further held in Rita Kumari v Shyam Sunder[8] that since jurisdiction of PLA is only confined to public utility services, therefore it won’t have jurisdiction with regard to matrimonial matters.
Another important aspect is that the award is final and cannot be appealed, not even under Art. 226 of the Constitution because it is a judgment by consent. It was held in Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai[9], that a right of appeal to an award passed by the Lok Adalat shall be governed by the Legal Services Authorities Act, and hence, the appeal under S. 96 of the CPC was not maintainable. Further, in Board of Trustees of the Port of Vishakhapatnam v. Presiding Officer, Permanent, Lok Adalat-cum-secretary, District Legal Services Authority, Vishakhapatnam and Anr.[10], it was observed that the award is enforceable as a decree and is final.
Lok Adalats are required to follow the principles of natural justice and other legal principles as well. In Kishan Rao v. Bidar District Legal Services Authority[11], an impugned decree was struck down as being a nullity by reason of violation of natural justice. Further, in State Bank of India v. State of Jharkhand & Anr.,[12]an order was quashed due to the aspects of the case not being properly appreciated by the Permanent Lok Adalat.
ii. suggestions & conclusion
The Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, which provides for the Lok Adalat for speedy and early settlement of dispute among the parties, is a boon for Indian legal system. Majority of India population which is illiterate seek justice through regular court which is disadvantageous to both, the parties as well as to the courts as such on which an amicable settlement can be reached overburdens the courts and the procedure at the courts are expensive, ineffective and time consuming. With respect to the present condition prevailing in the society and the gap between the economic conditions of the people of the society asks for an effective and strong legal service for poor and needy people. Below mentioned are some suggestions that ought to be incorporated in the effectuation of the machinery of Lok Adalat:
·      Legal literacy and legal aid programmes need to expand to take care of poor and ignorant by organizing awareness camps at grass-root level besides, the mass media like newspapers, television, radios can also be desirable for this purpose.
·       To increase its utility, the concerned Legal services Authority or Committee should disseminate information to the public about the holding of various Lok Adalat by it and success achieved thereby in providing speedy, equitable and inexpensive justice.
·      There is need for improvement in quality of legal aid provided by lawyers and advocates. The remunerations offered from legal services authorities to lawyers should be revised and thus encouraged to render effective legal assistance to needy persons.
·      It is observed that, there is need for enactment of more statutory provisions allowing justice through Lok Adalat.
·       The Lok Adalat Movement can be successful only if the people participate on voluntary basis in the functioning of Lok Adalat. This can be achieved by restraining themselves from invoking the jurisdiction of traditional Courts in trifle disputes.
It is high time for law makers, jurists, lawyers and judges to help modify the current model law governing Lok Adalatand include such areas under its jurisdiction like business disputes or conflicts where public at large is involved and the matters where government is involved in one or the other way. It will go a long way in strengthening our diverse, democratic values and rule of Law. The working of Lok Adalat seems to be both fruitful and successful and has achieved those objectives, for which it has been meant. The overall functioning and achievement of Lok Adalat appears to be appreciable though not remarkable. So there is a need strengthen the system of Lok Adalat in recent context, which in turn, helps to realize the Constitutional goals of ‘equal and social justice’ to its fullest extent. It will, in turn, helpful to regain to reaffirm the public confidence in the judiciary.

[1] Abul Hassan & Ors. v. Delhi Vidyut Board & Ors., 1999 ILR DEL 1 20
[2] D.N Banerjee v. P.R Mukherjee And Others, 1953 SCCR 4 302
[3] Justice K.A. Abdul Gafoor, The Concept of Permanent Lok Adalat and the Legal Services Authorities Amendment Act, 2002Citeas:(2003)5SCC(Jour)33,available at http://www.ebcindia.com/practicallawyer/index2.php?option=com_content&itemid=1&do_pdf=1&id=700
[4] Bar Council of India v. Union of India, AIR 2012 SC 3246
[5] Ibid.
[6] Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, 1986 SCC 2 401
[7] Abdul Hassan v Delhi Vidyut Board, AIR 1999 Del 88
[8] Rita Kumari v Shyam Sunder, AIR 2007 DOC 259 Cal
[9] Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai, AIR 2000 MP 301
[10] Board of Trustees of the Port of Vishakhapatnam v. Presiding Officer, Permanent, Lok Adalat-cum-secretary, District Legal Services Authority, Vishakhapatnam and Anr.2000 (5) ALD 682
[11] Kishan Rao v. Bidar District Legal Services Authority, AIR 2001 Kant 407
[12] State Bank of India v. State of Jharkhand & Anr., 2009 JLJR 2 684

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