The Lok Adalat system in India has evolved into the quintessential dispute resolution mechanism which ensures justice for all, maintenance of relationships, cost-efficacy, time bound resolution and reduced burden on courts. However, while Lok Adalats have become a solution to the seemingly unending pile-up of cases in the courts, the one problem that they face is their inability to pass a binding decision. True to its nature as a method of Alternate Dispute Resolution, a Lok Adalat can only hear the issues from the point of view of the parties and offer them creative solutions which they can discuss but unlike Arbitration, another form of Alternate Dispute Resolution, a Lok Adalat cannot adjudicate a matter and pass a decisions, and this poses a problem of an unguaranteed resolution. So, if parties cannot commit to the process of a settlement does not seem possible, the matter will be returned to the court and this adds to the burden of cases on the judicial system, a problem that Lok Adalats are trying to solve.
Realising the need for a change and as an innovative idea to provide more certainty to the dispute resolution process in a Lok Adalat, the then Chief Justice Dr A.S Anand said in the annual meeting held by the State Legal Services Authorities in 1999, “there will be no harm if the Legal Services Authorities Act is amended to provide that in case, in a matter before it, the judges of the Lok Adalat are convinced that of the parties is unreasonably opposing a reasonable settlement and has no valid defence whatsoever against the claim of the opposite party, they may pass an award on the basis of the materials before them without the consent of the party standing in the way of a settlement.” He went on to say that an appeal could lie to the Court if the parties are unsatisfied with the decision and this would not put additional stress on the courts because the matter, if unresolved, would have been referred to the Court anyway.
In response to this very valid and acceptable statement, the Parliament amended the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 in 2002 and added a provision for the establishment of Permanent Lok Adalats which would hear cases relating to Public Utility Services and in such cases the Permanent Lok Adalat would have the power to pass a decision and settle the matter. Any party, even one who is not raising the claim against the Public Utility Service, can file an application to the Permanent Lok Adalat for settlement of the dispute as long as the offence is non-compoundable and value of the property in question does not exceed Rs. 10 Lakh. Once an application is made for settlement by a Permanent Lok Adalat, the matter cannot be referred to a court.
Once an application has been filed, the parties to the dispute must also file written statements containing documents, evidence and proof that would be provided to a court if a suit was filed. Following the submission of the statements and the required documents, the Permanent Lok Adalat is mandated to go about their usual proceedings of conducting a form of conciliation between the parties, allowing them to communicate with each other and come to an agreement with the assistance of the Lok Adalat if necessary. The parties are also required to cooperate and participate wholeheartedly in the process to make the most of the situation and when the Permanent Lok Adalat is satisfied that there is a possibility of a settlement, it can formulate the terms of the agreement and present it to the parties who will then work upon it and agree to the terms or draft their own versions of the terms to reach a settlement. If parties agree, the process is the same as a regular Lok Adalat where the settlement is signed and presented to the court and the parties as an award. However, if a settlement is possible but parties are uncooperative or unwilling to settle, the Permanent Lok Adalat shall have the power to decide the dispute. In making such a decision, the amendment vests in the Permanent Lok Adalat the same powers that the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 gives to a Civil Court in respect to summons, attendance, evidence, affidavits, production of documents, requisition of public records and any other matter that the Government may prescribe. In addition to this, the Permanent Lok Adalat can make its own rules of procedure to decide the matter and once an award is made, it has the same binding nature and enforceability as a decree passed by a Civil Court, and it shall be executed in the same way.
This amendment is sure to go a long way in providing a more efficient method of dispute resolution whereby parties can use the more favoured method of conciliation and resolve their dispute with discussions but if they are unable to do so, the Permanent Lok Adalat shall have the power to decide the matter and pass an enforceable award. Furthermore, it also provides a more accessible way by which common citizens can have their grievances against corporate bodies addressed in a more time-efficient and cost-effective method.
 Gazala Parveen, Lok Adalats in India: Apertures to Speedy Justice, iPleaders, (Nov. 7, 2019, 7:18 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/lok-adalats-india-speedy-justice/.
 Karthyaeni, Lok Adalats in India, LegalServiceIndia, (Jun. 4, 2017, 6:55 PM), http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/lok_a.htm.
 National Legal Services Authority, Permanent Lok Adalat, NALSA, (Apr. 25, 2003, 4:13 PM), https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat/permanent-lok-adalat.
 Editor, Lok Adalats and Permanent Lok Adalats, Shodhganga, (Feb. 17, 2016, 9:07 PM), https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/26666/9/09_chapter%203.pdf.
 Supra note 2.
 Rebecca Furtado, Permanent Lok Adalats – A Critical Study, iPleaders, (Sep. 21, 2016, 7:32 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/permanent-lok-adalats-critical-study/.