The concept of Lok Adalat (People’s Court) is an innovative Indian contribution to the world of jurisprudence. 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 a satisfactory settlement of their disputes. This system is based on Gandhian principles.
It is one of the components of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) systems. In ancient times, the disputes were referred to “Panchayats”, which were established at the village level. Panchayats resolved the disputes through arbitration. It has proved to be a very effective alternative to litigation.
This concept of the settlement of disputes through mediation, negotiation or arbitration is conceptualized and institutionalized in the philosophy of Lok Adalat. It involves people who are directly or indirectly affected by dispute resolution.
Origin of Lok Adalats
The concept of Lok Adalats was pushed back into oblivion in last few centuries before independence and particularly during the British regime. Now, this concept has, once again, been rejuvenated. It has become very popular and familiar amongst litigants.
This is the system, which has deep roots in Indian legal history and its close allegiance to the culture and perception of justice in Indian ethos. Experience has shown that it is one of the very efficient and important ADR mechanisms 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. The first Lok Adalat was held on March 14, 1982 at Junagarh in Gujarat. Maharashtra commenced the Lok Nyayalaya in 1984.
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. It contains various provisions for settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat.
This Act mandates constitution of legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
It also mandates organization of Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. When statutory recognition had been given to Lok Adalat, it was specifically provided that the award passed by the Lok Adalat formulating the terms of compromise will have the force of decree of a court, which can be executed as a civil court decree.
The evolution of movement called Lok Adalat 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. It contains various provisions for settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat.
The parties are not allowed to be represented by the lawyers and encouraged to interact with judge who helps in arriving at amicable settlement. No fee is paid by the parties. Strict rule of Civil Procedural Court and evidence is not applied. Decision is by informal sitting and binding on the parties and no appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat.
Permanent Lok Adalats
In 2002, the Parliament brought about certain amendments to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to institutionalize the Lok Adalats by making them a permanent body to settle the disputes related to public utility services. The Central or State Authorities may, by notification, establish Permanent Lok Adalats at any Permanent Lok Adalats, for determining issues in connection to Public Utility Services.
Public Services include:
- Transport service
- Postal, telegraph or telephone services
- Supply of power, light and water to public
- System of public conservancy or sanitation
- Insurance services and such other services as notified by the Central or State Governments
Permanent Lok Adalats have the same powers that are vested in the Lok Adalats.
Jurisdiction of Lok Adalats
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 organized.
The Lok Adalat can compromise and settle even criminal cases, which are compoundable under the relevant laws.
Lok Adalats have the 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 Labor cases
- Land acquisition disputes
- Bank’s unpaid loan cases
- Arrears of retirement benefits cases
- Family Court cases
- Cases, which are not subjudice
Powers of Lok Adalats
The Lok Adalat shall have the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, while trying a suit, in respect of the following matters:
- Power to summon and enforce the attendance of any witness and to examine him/her on oath.
- Power to enforce the discovery and production of any document.
- Power to receive evidence on affidavits,
- Power for requisitioning of any public record or document or copy thereof or from any court.
- Such other matters as may be prescribed
- Every Lok Adalat shall have the power to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
- All proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193, 219 and 228 of IPC.
- Every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for the purpose of Sec 195 and Chapter XXVI of Cr.P.C.
Advantages of Lok Adalats
- Speedy Justice
- Unburdening of Courts and thus reducing the backlog of cases
- Maintenance of Cordial Relations (since the main thrust is on compromise and not punishment)
Article by Somesh Vaidya