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. 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. In India, apart from arbitration, the most popular form of dispute resolution processes are mediation and Lok Adalats.
Mediation is a form of Alternate Dispute Resolution in which a third neutral party attempts to assist the disputing parties in reaching an amicable settlement and a mutually acceptable agreement. It is the most uncomplicated method of dispute resolution where the third party acts as a mediator to resolve the dispute between the parties by using the means of communication and negotiation. The process of mediation is completely controlled by the parties since the mediator is only a medium to facilitate the process of reaching an amicable settlement. A mediator’s suggestions are not binding on either of the parties. On the other hand, 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.
When one compares both the processes, one notices that mediation usually takes place in a private conference room, where only the parties to the dispute and their representatives are present. While mediation takes place privately, Lok Adalat proceedings are held in public on the court or agency premises. In mediation, focus is based on working out a mutually agreeable settlement to a dispute, while Lok Adalat is concerned with liability assessment for determining the monetary charges. Mediation is the kind of negotiation process in which focus is mainly given on collaborative effort and improvement of communication between the parties and negotiation to reach an amicable settlement. Lok Adalat is more of an advisory body which mostly advises on how to settle monetary disputes and has a subsidiary element of co-operation which is required for negotiation. Mediation being a private process ensures confidentiality, which Lok Adalat being a public process cannot. It is no secret that mediation being an innovative process, does not limit itself to traditional legal remedies. On the other hand, the Lok Adalat mainly focuses mainly on monetary damages and is hence has a very limited scope.
Both mediation and Lok Adalats being forms of ADR offer the disputing parties several advantages over a rather lengthy and expensive trial process. They offer the parties an opportunity to opt for a method which is both time and cost saving. Both the processes have their own distinct features and can actually co-exist together as a part of a homogenous approach. When taken together they can make the system of delivering justice quick and hassle-free. Hence, despite their various differences, they should be promoted for individual as well as integrated methods of dispute resolution.