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 procedure followed in a Lok Adalat is often likened to arbitration but in reality, it does not play an adjudicatory role like arbitration, but it is actually closer to the process by which mediation and conciliation are conducted.
Since Lok Adalats are “people’s courts” they have to be accessible to all and in recognition of this, the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, which gives statutory recognition to these Lok Adalats, empowers all courts from the lowest district courts to the apex court in the country – the Supreme Court, to organize and establish Lok Adalats where they feel necessary for effective implementation of speedy justice. Only serving or retired judicial officials or other persons as prescribed by the competent Legal Service Authority can preside over the Lok Adalat and its jurisdiction extends to the same level as that of the court that organizes or establishes them with the exception of matters relating to non-compoundable offences. Since Lok Adalats have been given statutory recognition under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 and this means that the settlement reached at the end of the process receives a binding nature which makes it enforceable by any and all courts. Lok Adalats have jurisdiction to settle disputes between parties who have a pending suit before the court, disputes in a pre-litigation stage, and compoundable criminal cases.
In settling these disputes, the Lok Adalat facilitates a conversation between the parties but the process unravels through various stages that, in the best cases, conclude in a settlement or agreement between the parties.
First an application must be filed by one of both parties to a dispute requesting the court to refer the matter to a Lok Adalat and after its admissions, the matter is heard by the presiding officer at the Lok Adalat. Once the parties are heard, the presiding officer attempts to nudge the parties to compromise and reach a settlement as expeditiously as possible, because a speedy resolution is mandated by the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, the terms of the settlement are produced before the court and after the court is satisfied, an award is passed, and it becomes binding on the parties and enforceable by the court. No appeal lies from a settlement reached as a result of the Lok Adalat process. If the parties are, however, unable to come to a compromise and further determination is necessary the matter is referred to the court for adjudication.
Resolution by the Lok Adalat follows a system of compromise and cooperation rather than absolute determination, since it is not an adjudicatory body, but the finality of an award if a settlement is reached ensures that the process is quick and conclusive.
 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/.