Inspired by the Panchayat system in India whereby disputes between village members were settled by the elected council, known as the Panchayat, the country established more legally recognized institutions known as Lok Adalats or the “People’s Court”. A Lok Adalat was different from the traditional judicial system of litigation which was the most frequently used and only known method of formalized dispute resolution that existed at the time. However, as the number of disputes grew and cases piled up, courts began facing the problem of being overburdened and understaffed and this turned their attention to Alternate Dispute Resolution.
Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a mechanism by which parties to a dispute allow a neutral professional to facilitate a conversation between them and assist them in coming to an agreeable settlement. The earliest form of alternate dispute resolution was the panchayat system in India but later the Western concept of ADR evolved, and it was institutionalized as arbitration, conciliation and mediation but India still held onto its traditions with the establishments of Lok Adalats.
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’.
Lok Adalats function on the principles of accommodation, cooperation, justice, equity, participation and communication and even though it is not an adjudicatory body which guarantees resolution, people are still attracted to the process for various reasons and some of them are:
- Lok Adalats ensure flexibility and dynamism in their procedure by allowing parties the freedom to interact with each other and the Lok Adalat judge either by themselves or through their counsels. Furthermore, the procedural flexibility means that the rules in the Indian Evidence Act, 1882 or the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 are not strictly adhered to.
- Unlike a litigation proceeding in the court, the process in a Lok Adalat is cost effective as there is no requirement of court fees or any kind of fees for the dispute to be heard. If a suit has already been filed in the court but the dispute has been settled by a Lok Adalat, the court fees originally paid would be refunded.
- Disputes can be brought to the Lok Adalat without approaching the court first and this allows for a quick and fast-track procedure for resolution.
- The fast-track process also makes resolution by a Lok Adalat for efficient with respect to time and money. Unlike a litigation battle which can be long drawn, lasting for years usually, and expensive with court fees and attorney bills, a Lok Adalat ensures a hassle-free and speedy resolution.
- Awards passed by the Lok Adalat, like arbitral awards, are final and binding on the parties. This means that the award or final settlement can be enforced by a court of law and also that no appeal can lie against the final settlement. Since Lok Adalats are not adjudicatory in nature, the final settlement is a result of communication between parties and both parties agree to the terms so the chances of a party wanting to file an appeal are slim.
- The principles of Lok Adalats ensure that the parties maintain a friendly and cordial relationship with each other by providing a safe environment for open and honest conversation. The role of settling a dispute through Lok Adalats is to persuade parties to reconcile their differences and reach a solution by encouraging a consensual agreement.
Due to all these reasons, 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.
 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.
 B2B, Lok Adalats: Origin, Evolution, Jurisdiction, Powers, CivilsDaily, (Sep. 32, 2017, 7:49 PM), https://www.civilsdaily.com/lok-adalats-origin-evolution-jurisdiction-powers/.
 Editor, Lok Adalat in India, IndiaLawOffices, (Jul. 1, 2019, 4:37 PM), https://www.indialawoffices.com/knowledge-centre/lok-adalat-in-india.
 Supra note 1.