It is often believed that the concept of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) is one of Western origin but much like the number ‘zero’ it was a working model in India long before it became widely used by the Global North. Alternate Dispute Resolution is a mechanism by which parties to a dispute avoid long-drawn litigation and costly court fees by getting their dispute resolved by a neutral third party who facilitates a conversation between them. The reason why ADR is different from litigation is because rather than being an adjudicatory mechanism, it works on the relationship between parties to foster healthy conversation and cooperation which paves the path for an amicable agreement. The various branches of ADR – arbitration, mediation, conciliation, negotiation, Lok Adalat, use variations of this idea but the underlying principle is the same, and that is compromise. The earliest traces of Alternate Dispute Resolution in India can be found in villages where the Village Council, known as the Panchayat, would hold meetings to settle any dispute that arose between residents of the village. This ancient Indian practice was later conceptualized and called Lok Adalat.
Lok Adalat, as the name suggests, means ‘People’s Court’ and it has developed from the practice of the Panchayat system where disputes were settled by the Council which facilitated conversations between parties to allow them to negotiate an agreement. The process of the settlement by the Lok Adalat is often confused with arbitration but while arbitration is an adjudicatory process wherein the arbitrator makes a decision and pronounces an ‘arbitral award; to settle the dispute, there is no such adjudication in a Lok Adalat. The process is actually akin to mediation, conciliation and negotiation where the parties to the dispute or the ‘people’ come to a decision themselves and hence the Lok Adalat gives out a ‘Nyaya-Panch’ or ‘people’s verdict’. A Lok Adalat functions on the principles of participation, accommodation, fairness, transparency, efficiency and cooperation.
During the British rule in India, the system of Lok Adalat went into hibernation while English methods of dispute resolution like litigation and arbitration were imposed on the people. However, after independence, Lok Adaltas emerged again as an effective method of dispute resolution in comparison to litigation in courts. Lok Adalat camps initially began in Gujarat with the first Lok Adalat being held at Junagarh in 1982 and soon, owing to their effectivity in settling motor vehicle claims, matrimonial disputes, land battles, and many more, Lok Adalats were finally given statutory recognition in 1987 by the Legal Services Authorities Act.
The recognition given to Lok Adalats by the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 promotes Article 39-A of the Constitution of India which directs states to organize Lok Adalats to ensure that the legal system, in its operation, promotes justice by recognizing the concept of equal opportunity. Speedy resolution of disputes coupled with reduced costs of litigation and avoidance of further appeals makes Lok Adalats the perfect instrument to solve the increasing burden that the judiciary faces with the piling cases that are pending.
 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.
 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/.
 Supra note 1.
 Supra note 2.