Status of Lok Adalats in India
Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), mainly denotes a wide range of dispute resolution processes that act as a means of disagreeing parties to come to an agreement without using the means of litigation. It is a collective term which refers to the ways in which the parties can settle disputes, with the help of a third party. It is also known as external dispute resolution (EDR). ADR has gained widespread acceptance among both the general public and the legal profession in the recent years and is also being adopted as the means to help settle disputes alongside court system itself. There are various widely used forms of ADR such as Arbitration, Mediation Negotiation and Conciliation. However, apart from these methods, one of the most popular methods used in India is the mechanism of Lok Adalats.
Lok Adalat, also known as people’s adult is one of the most popular ADR mechanisms in India (especially rural India). It is a forum where cases that are pending on Panchayat or pre litigation stage in court are settled. Lok Adalat is effective when it comes to the settlement of monetary disputes. Apart from monetary disputes, it is also highly effective in partition disputes, matrimonial disputes, etc. The first Lok Adalat was held in Gujarat in 1999. This concept is an innovative Indian contribution to the area of jurisprudence. The system of Lok Adalat is based on the Gandhian principles and is a new addition to the justice dispensation system of India and has so far been successful in providing a supplementary forum to the victims for a somewhat satisfactory settlement of disputes.
The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalats, pursuant to the constitutional provision in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India. It has various provisions for settlement of disputes through Lok Adalats. The Legal Services Act commands the constitution of legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society. The Act ensures that no citizen is denied the equal opportunity for securing justice due to economic or any other disabilities. The Act also provides for the organisation of Lok Adalats to secure the operation of a legal system which provides justice on the basis of equal opportunity. It was specifically provided that an award passed by the Lok Adalats would have the same force as a decree of court (which can be executed as a civil court decree) when statutory recognition was given to Lok Adalats.
When the parties opt for resolution of disputes through Lok Adalats, they are not allowed to be represented by lawyers and they are usually encouraged to interact with the Judge who helps in arriving at an amicable settlement. Neither a fee is paid by the parties nor a strict rule of Civil Procedural Court and evidence is followed in this system. It must be mentioned that though the decision is taken informally, it is binding on both the parties and no appeal can lie against the order of the Lok Adalat. In 2002, the Parliament brought about certain changes in the form of amendments to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 with a view to institutionalise the Lok Adalats by making them a permanent body to resolve disputes related to public utility services.
Lok Adalats like any other form of ADR provides speedy justice in a much more economical manner. It is a cost as well as time saving process. It helps to lessen the burden on the courts and thus reduces the backlog of cases. It promotes cordial relations between disputing parties. It should be promoted as a viable means of ADR.