A total number of 1,27,87,329 cases were disposed of in 2021. Due to technological advancement like E-Lok Adalats, Lok Adalats have reached the doorsteps of parties.
About Lok Adalat:
NALSA along with other Legal Services Institutions conducts Lok Adalats. 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/ compromised amicably. Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Under the said Act, the award (decision) made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be a decree of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law. If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award, but they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in exercise of their right to litigate.
There is no court fee payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refunded back to the parties. The persons deciding the cases in the Lok Adalats are called the Members of the Lok Adalats, they have the role of statutory conciliators only and do not have any judicial role; therefore they can only persuade the parties to come to a conclusion for settling the dispute outside the court in the Lok Adalat and shall not pressurize or coerce any of the parties to compromise or settle cases or matters either directly or indirectly. The Lok Adalat shall not decide the matter so referred at its own instance, instead the same would be decided on the basis of the compromise or settlement between the parties. The members shall assist the parties in an independent and impartial manner in their attempt to reach amicable settlement of their dispute.
History and Administration
Lok Adalats was created under Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 with a statutory status for using alternative dispute redressal mechanisms. The first Lok Adalat was held in Gujarat in 1982 and in Chennai for the first time in 1986.
Section 22 B of The Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 provides for the establishment of Permanent Lok Adalats (PLA) for exercising jurisdiction in respect of one or more public utility services (PUS). Section 22 A of The Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 states what constitutes ‘Public Utility Services’ for the purpose of Permanent Lok Adalat.
Lok Adalats are constituted at below levels-National,State,District and Taluka:
- State Authorities.
- High Court.
- District and Taluk level.
Types of Lok Adalat:
- Permanent Lok Adalat – Provides mechanism for disposing cases relating to public utility services transport,postal and telegraph.
- National Lok Adalat – Held from year 2015, every month on specific topic across India. These are held on a single day disposing off large number of pending cases.
- Mega Lok Adalat – Held across all courts in state in a single day.
- Mobile Lok Adalats – These types of Lok Adalats are organised occasionally which travel from one place to other across country occasionally and help resolving disputes.
Nature of Cases to be Referred to Lok Adalat
- Any case pending before any court.
- Any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court.
Provided that any matter relating to an offence not compoundable under the law shall not be settled in Lok Adalat.
Which Lok Adalat to be Approached
As per section 18(1) of the Act, a Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of –
- Any case pending before; or
- Any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised.
Provided that the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of matters relating to divorce or matters relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.
How to Get the Case Referred to the Lok Adalat for Settlement
(A) Case pending before the court.
(B) Any dispute at pre-litigative stage.
The State Legal Services Authority or District Legal Services Authority as the case may be on receipt of an application from any one of the parties at a pre-litigation stage may refer such matter to the Lok Adalat for amicable settlement of the dispute for which notice would then be issued to the other party.
Reason for establishment of Lok Adalats:
- Equal justice and free legal aid: Article 39A of the Constitution states that citizens of India are entitled to equal justice and free legal aid. Hence, the Parliament enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to create national, state and district level authorities to establish Lok Adalats.
- Speedy trial of the disputes: The basic features of Lok Adalat are the procedural flexibility and speedy trial of the disputes. There is no strict application of procedural laws like the Civil Procedure Code and the Evidence Act while assessing the claim by Lok Adalat.
- Reducing backlog: The other reason was to clear the massive backlog of pending cases in the Indian judicial system as well as to bring speedy justice to all. The matters in Lok Adalat do not linger on for years but are settled within a day.
Role of Lok Adalats:
- Dispute settlement: To hear and settle long pending cases, which are disposed through compromise and settlement. It can hear both civil and criminal cases.
- Justice: The aim of Lok Adalats is to bring justice to poor and underprivileged people of India. It ensures that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
- Alternate dispute resolution: The system of Lok Adalat, which is an innovative mechanism for alternate dispute resolution, has proved effective for resolving disputes in a spirit of conciliation outside the courts.
- Reducing litigation: It can take up pending cases as well as those that are in pre litigation stage. The verdict given by the Lok Adalat is final and binding, and there is no provision for appeal. But the party is free to initiate a new litigation in court.
Limitations of Lok Adalats:
- Complexity: The biggest disadvantage with Lok Adalats is that repeated sittings at short intervals with the same judge are almost not possible which breaks the continuity of the deliberations.
- Lack of confidentiality: Lok Adalat proceedings are held in the open court and any member of public may witness these proceedings. Thus, the element of confidentiality is also lacking. This also impedes the process of exploration of various resolution options and ultimately the success rate in matters where parties desire confidentiality.
- Forced injustice: Lok Adalats are fora where voluntary efforts intended to bring about settlement of disputes between the parties are made through conciliatory and persuasive efforts. Many times victims are forced to settle at lower compensation.
- Diminished party autonomy: It cannot be said that the parties remain in absolute control of the proceedings in contradistinction to what happens in mediation.
- Needs consent of both the parties: The most important factor to be considered while deciding the cases at the Lok Adalat is the consent of both the parties. It cannot be forced on any party that the matter has to be decided by the 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.
Significance of Lok Adalats
- As per the National Judicial Data Grid, 16.9% of all cases in district and taluka courts are three to five years old.
- For High Courts, 20.4% of all cases are five to 10 years old, and over 17% are 10-20 years old.
- Furthermore, over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court, over 57 lakh cases before various HCs, and over 3 crore cases are pending before various district and subordinate courts.
- Moreover, Lok Adalats are economically affordable, as there are no court fees for placing matters before the Lok Adalat; finality of awards, as no further appeal is allowed.
- As a result, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party-driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement.
Why Lok Adalats are fast
- When compared to litigation, and even other dispute resolution devices, such as arbitration and mediation, Lok Adalats offer parties speed of settlement.
- Cases are disposed of in a single day.
- The speed is due to procedural flexibility, as there is no strict application of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
- More importantly, the award issued by a Lok Adalat, after the filing of a joint compromise petition, has the status of a civil court decree.
Some figures about cases disposed
- In 2015 and 2016, ten National Lok Adalats (NLAs) were held each year that disposed of 1,83,09,401 and 1,04,98,453 cases respectively.
- In 2017 and 2018, the number of NLAs dropped to five, with 54,05,867 and 58,79,691 cases settled respectively.
- In 2019, four NLAs were organised, and they disposed of 52,93,273 cases.
- In 2015, the average number of cases settled per NLA was 18,30,940, which came down to 10,81,174 in 2017, but rose to 11,75,939 in 2018, and 13,23,319 cases in 2019.
- This throws up questions about the efficiency of NLAs.
- The data show that the average number of cases disposed of per NLA since 2017 has gone up even when the number of NLAs organised each year has reduced.
- This proves that on average, the system is certainly efficient.
- The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function.
- As compromise is its central idea, there is a concern that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice.
- In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against entities with deep pockets, such as insurance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others.
- In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them.
- Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes under a romanticised view of marriage.
- Even a disaster like the Bhopal gas tragedy was coercively settled for a paltry sum, with real justice still eluding thousands of victims.
A just outcome of a legal process is far more important than expeditious disposal, so what we need is concrete and innovative steps in improving the quality of justice rendered by National Lok Adalats.