In the present context, Lok Adalats are a boon for the nation. They provide a method of alternate dispute resolution. The Legal Services Authorities Act was enacted in the year 1987 and the Act came into force in the year 1995. The Lok Adalats have been established under this Act to provide speedy relief outside the cumbersome courtroom process.
Meaning of Lok Adalat
The modern version of the story of ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ written by one of the most prolific and staunch writer Munshi Premchand can be termed as lok adalats. The old system of ‘nyaya panchayat’ has been institutionalized and conceptualized into the newer form. It is, rightly said that since the II World War, the greatest revolution in the law has been the mechanism of evolution of system of legal aid which includes an Alternate Dispute Redressal Mechanism.[i]The Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of (i) any case pending before; or (ii) any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised. The Lok Adalat can compromise and settle even criminal cases, which are compoundable in nature. So this Act provides that a case which has not been brought before any Court can be dealt in Lok Adalat and it can be settled there. These lok adalats have a legal status by the virtue of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
The lok adalats have been brought to reduce the delay caused because of the procedural complexities in the justice system. It is an alternative where speedy justice is delivered free of cost. It was introduced to reduce the burden of gigantic amount of cases on the judiciary. Moreover, it also mandates Article 39A of the Constitution of India which aims to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Membership and Composition of Lok Adalat
The lok adalat comprises of a Chairman who shall be a siting or retired judicial officer. There shall be two members and one of them should be a lawyer. The members do not have any judicial role. They play the role of statutory intermediaries.
The award given by these lok adalats shall be final and equivalent to the order of a civil court. There lies no appeal against the order. However, if the litigants are not satisfied with the order they can initiate court proceedings on the same.
There is no fee required for settlement of dispute in lok adalats. If the issue is being dealt by a court and meanwhile the parties have approached lok adalat and the issue gets settled in the lok adalat, the court fee that was submitted to initiate the proceedings and in filing the petition shall be reimbursed.
Cognizance of cases
There are II ways through which the lok adalat can take cognizance of matters.
- When both the parties would make an application for the transfer of case to the lok adalat or when one of the parties make such application, the court on prima face being satisfied that the case is fit for transfer, can transfer it to lok adalats.
- In the second instance, the court on suo motto can take transfer the case to the lok adalat if it deems fit to do so. The court shall transfer a case only after giving the parties a reasonable opportunity to get heard.
The case shall be determined through III modes.
- In the first mode, it shall be determined keep into account justice, fairness, equity and law.
- In the second mode, it shall be determined by making the parties to come to a settlement or compromise.
- If no compromise is furnished, the case will be referred back to the courtroom. The proceedings shall start from the point immediately before the reference.
Types of cases suitable for lok adalats
The cases that can be disposed with the held of lok adalats include Partition Claims, Damage cases, Matrimonial and Family disputes, Bonded Labour, land acquisition cases, Motor Vehicle compensation cases, retirement benefits related cases etc. These cases are not gated in nature but require urgent redressal and therefore are suitable for hearing through lok adalats.
Types of Lok Adalat
National Lok Adalat– These courts take place at every II months in all the courts of the country. On one particular day, all the courts of the country, ranging from the Supreme Court to taluka levels, organize lok adalats. The cases are disposed at a very high rate in these lok adalats.
Permanent Lok Adalat– They are established under Section 22 B of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. It is a permanent body which tries to reconcile the interest of the parties in matters related to public utility services. The jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalats is up to Rs. 10 lakhs. It is the last and official award. Even if the parties don’t reach a common ground, the permanent lok adalats have the power to issue orders.
Portable Lok Adalats– They are established in different parts of the country. These lok adalats move form one place to another dispensing justice and promote mutual compromise and settlements.
Limitations of lok adalats
‘Hurried Justice is justice burried’. This saying seems true in the cases of lok adalats. At times, the judges of lok adalats are not interested in listening to what the parties have to say. They use their sense of equity and justice to decide the cases rather than finding a common ground for mediation and settlement. In a hurry to dispose off cases, they do not take into account the plight of the litigants.
Also, the system of lok adalats is not much popular making the advocates because of their less involvement in the same. They do not promote their clients to try these redressal options. Instead, they advice them to follow the long and burdening court procedure.
Moreover, there is lack of awareness among the litigants about existence of such alternate dispute redressal mechanisms. Because of this, the benefit of lok adalats do not reach to the poor and the needy.
The way forward
The legal fraternity being the gatekeepers of law should promote such mechanisms so that the needy and the poor is able to have access to justice. The technology should be used and virtual lok adalats should also take place so that more cases can be disposed off. The virtual system would also the increase the frequency of sittings of lok adalats. The legal battles are always time taking and at times very ugly too. One should try to avoid the same should take up the alternate dispute resolution methods to solve one’s grievances. This whole system in based on the Gandhian principles of Gram Swarajand Nyaya Panchayat. We should all promote this system to achieve the dream of the Father of the Nation.
[i]. Shivaraj S. Huchhanavar, IN SEARCH OF TRUE “ALTERNATIVE” TO EXISTING JUSTICE DISPENSING SYSTEM IN INDIA, 7NALSAR LAW REVIEW, 2013.
This article is authored by Sudhanshu Sachan, Second-Year, B.A. LL.B (Hons.) student at Central University of South Bihar.
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