With the 2002 amendment to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the Permanent Lok Adalats have come into existence and they are different from regular Lok Adalats because they have the power to pass binding and enforceable decisions in cases where parties are unwilling to amicably settle the dispute. This amendment was welcomed because it provided some certainty to the resolution process where a dispute relating to Public Utility Services, if unable to be resolved through conciliation or conversation, can be adjudicated upon by the Permanent Lok Adalat and parties could have the same result as though the matter was settled by a court. Therefore, the amendment allows for a guaranteed resolution without adding to the burden of cases that are already piling up before the Courts. Like all changes made by the Government though, this amendment too faced a lot of criticism, not from the judiciary or the public but from lawyers and attorneys. The amendment was criticised on three grounds - composition, functioning and validity of appeals.
The Permanent Lok Adalat must be established by the National Legal Service Authority or the State Legal Service Authority and it shall have three members – Chairman (retired or serving Judge, Additional District Judge or Judicial Officer having a rank higher than District Judge) and two other members experienced in the field of Public Utility Service, and these members are nominated by the State or Central Governments on the recommendation of the State Legal Service Authority or National Legal Service Authority respectively. This composition has been criticised as an extension of political control and in furtherance of bureaucracy, but this is not necessarily true because the members are nominated only on the recommendation of the State Legal Service Authority or National Legal Service Authority and this considerably reduces the extent of government interference in the system. Furthermore, the Legal Service Authorities are presided over by the Chief Justice of India and other sitting Judges and since the three branches of governance – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, are separated, there is no chance that Authorities will give into political pressure and recommend members chosen by the government.
With respect to the procedure followed by the Permanent Lok Adalat in pronouncing decisions and adjudicating matters, there is criticism in the fact that the Permanent Lok Adalat has extensive powers akin to the Civil Court in relation to summons, attendance, evidence, affidavits, production of documents, requisition of public records and any other matter that the Government may prescribe, and that it is immune from the application of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. However, the Permanent Lok Adalat is not unrestrained in its jurisdiction and power because, according to the amendment, it can only decide disputes where a “possibility of settlement” already exists but parties are hindering the process by being uncooperative. Therefore, the Permanent Lok Adalat can only adjudicate upon disputes that are likely to be settled, this decision is made based on discussions between the parties and evidence produced, and it is subject to Judicial Review under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. Moreover, the Permanent Lok Adalat should keep in mind the principle of natural justice – “one cannot be judge in his own case” and “hear the other side”, equity, fairness, liberty and being unbiased, which provides a reasonable assumption that the procedure followed is reasonable, fair and justice.
The third criticism regarding the nature of the awards given by the Permanent Lok Adalat is the most unwarranted criticism received by the amendment. No appeal lies with respect to a settlement reached by the parties through a regular Lok Adalats because those settlements are reached with the consent of the parties and by its very nature of cooperation, there is no scope for an appeal to be filed by either party and this is why the settlement is binding and final in nature. Even under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, no appeal shall lie if the decree or award is passed with the consent of the parties. However, with the Permanent Lok Adalat, the decision is only given when parties cannot reach an agreement and this creates a reason for one of the parties to be aggrieved by the decision and thus, they may feel like filing an appeal and that is why the amendment provides for it. The 2002 amendment, while empowering the Permanent Lok Adalat to make decisions also vests in it 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. This means that every decision or award made by the Permanent Lok Adalat is given the same recognition as a decree passed by a Civil Court and by this virtue, and since it is not otherwise provided in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, it will be considered as a decree by a Civil Court which can be appealed.
The Amendment to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is a most welcomed move in furtherance of Alternate Dispute Resolution and it serves as the perfect blend of conciliation and resolution by facilitating conversation between parties but pronouncing awards in cases where settlements are being hindered due to uncooperative parties.
 National Legal Services Authority, Permanent Lok Adalat, NALSA, (Apr. 25, 2003, 4:13 PM), https://nalsa.gov.in/lok-adalat/permanent-lok-adalat.
 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.
 Editor, Lok Adalat in India, IndiaLawOffices, (Jul. 1, 2019, 4:37 PM), https://www.indialawoffices.com/knowledge-centre/lok-adalat-in-india.
 Rebecca Furtado, Permanent Lok Adalats – A Critical Study, iPleaders, (Sep. 21, 2016, 7:32 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/permanent-lok-adalats-critical-study/.
 Supra note 3.
 Supra note 5.
 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.