Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms. It is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably.
Lok Adalat is an old form of adjudicating system prevailed in ancient India. The expression literally means 'people’s court'. People find solution by themselves, appropriately aided by lawmen and elders. It provides for alternative resolution of disputes. It has been found to be viable, economic, efficient and informal. Parties to the dispute directly interact with the Presiding Officer of the Lok Adalat and through such informal discussions, arrive at a settlement. The compromise or settlement is made an award of the Lok Adalat, which has the status, and force of a decree under the Code of Civil Procedure.
Lok Adalats are being constituted at various places in the country for the disposal, in a summary way and through the process of arbitration and settlement between the parties, of a large number of cases expeditiously and with lesser costs.
The institution of Lok Adalats is at present functioning as a voluntary and conciliatory agency without any statutory backing for its decisions. It has proved to be very popular in providing for a speedier system of administration of justice.
Lok Adalats aim at providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen because of economic or other disabilities. Some of the essential feature of Lok Adalats may be summarized as following—
Section 19 State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or High Court Legal Services Committee or Taluk Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats.
The persons deciding the cases in the Lok Adalats are called the Members of the Lok Adalats. They have the role of statutory conciliators only and do not have any judicial role. Therefore, they can only persuade the parties to come to a conclusion for settling the dispute outside the court in the Lok Adalat. They cannot pressurize or coerce any of the parties to compromise or settle cases or matters directly or indirectly.
Any case pending before a court may be referred to a Lok Adalat—
Lok Adalats have the competence to deal with a number of cases like—
Thus, the court can also suo motu refer the dispute to the Lok Adalat even where the parties are reluctant, if the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat. Pushpa Suresh Bhutada vs Subhash Bansilal Maheshwari1)
The prime consideration, which the court has to keep in mind, is the existence of the possibility of a settlement. The parties however must get a reasonable opportunity of being heard before the matter is referred to the Lok Adalat, suo motu by the court. Commissioner vs Nirupadi Virbhadrappa2)
The Legal Services Authority or Committee organizing the Lok Adalat may also refer a case to the Lok Adalat on receipt of an application from any one of the parties after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat, though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award, but they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in exercise of their right to litigate.
There is no court fee payable when a matter is filed in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refunded back to the parties.
The other type of Lok Adalat is the Permanent Lok Adalat, organized under Section 22-B of The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
(a) Permanent Lok Adalats have been set up as permanent bodies with a Chairman and two members for providing compulsory pre-litigative mechanism for conciliation and settlement of cases relating to Public Utility Services like transport, postal, telegraph etc.
(b) Here, even if the parties fail to reach to a settlement, the Permanent Lok Adalat gets jurisdiction to decide the dispute, provided, the dispute does not relate to any offence.
© Further, the Award of the Permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding on all the parties.
(d) The jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalats is upto Rs. Ten Lakhs. Permanent Lok Adalat does not decide cases where the value of dispute is more than ten Lakh rupees.
(e) Similarly, Permanent Lok Adalat does not take up cases pertaining to non-compoundable offences.
Section 22-C provides for the procedure for raising dispute before the Permanent Lok Adalat. Sub-section (1) provides that any party to a dispute may make an application to the Permanent Lok Adalat for the settlement of dispute before the dispute is brought before any court. However, Permanent Lok Adalat has no jurisdiction to deal with any matter relating to an offence not compoundable under any law. The second proviso puts a cap on the pecuniary jurisdiction inasmuch as it provides that the Permanent Lok Adalat shall not have jurisdiction in a matter where the value of the property in dispute exceeds ten lakh rupees. The Central Government, however, may increase the limit of ten lakh rupees in consultation with the Central Authority by notification.
The Permanent Lok Adalat may require any party to the application to file additional statement before it at any stage of the conciliation proceedings. Any document or statement received by Permanent Lok Adalat from any party to the application is given to the other party.
On completion of the above procedure, the Permanent Lok Adalat proceeds with conciliation proceedings between the parties to the application under sub-section (4) of section 22-C. During conduct of the conciliation proceedings under sub-section (4) of Section 22-C, the Permanent Lok Adalat is obliged to assist the parties in their attempt to reach an amicable settlement of the dispute in an independent and impartial manner. Every party to the application has a duty to cooperate in good faith with the Permanent Lok Adalat in conciliation of the dispute relating to the application and to comply with the direction of the Permanent Lok Adalat to produce evidence and other related documents before it. On satisfaction that there is likelihood of settlement in the proceedings, the Permanent Lok Adalat may formulate the terms of possible settlement of the dispute. The terms of settlement are then given to the parties for their observations. If the parties reach at an agreement on the settlement of the dispute, they have to sign the settlement/agreement.
The Permanent Lok Adalat then passes an award in terms thereof and furnishes a copy of the same to each of the parties concerned.
The Lok Adalat does not decide the matter so referred at its own instance. Instead, the same would be decided based on the compromise or settlement between the parties. The members shall assist the parties in an independent and impartial manner in their attempt to reach amicable settlement of their dispute.
Mobile Lok Adalats are also organized in various parts of the country which travel from one location to another to resolve disputes in order to facilitate the resolution of disputes through this mechanism.
(1) Permanent Adalat has jurisdiction in respect of one or more public utility services as defined in clause (b) of section 22A.
‘Public Utility Service’ means any transport services for the carriage of passengers or goods by air, road or water or postal, telegraph or telephone service or supply of power, light or water to the public by any establishment or system of public conservancy or sanitation or service in hospital or dispensary or insurance service and includes any service which the Central Government or the State Government, as the case may be, may in the public interest, by notification, declare to be a public utility service.3)
Lok Adalat has jurisdiction to determine and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the Parties to a dispute in respect of— (a) any case pending before; or (b) any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized. However, the Lok Adalat has no jurisdiction in respect of any case relating to an offence, which is not compoundable under any law.
(2) Jurisdiction of Permanent Lok-Adalat is limited to the matter where the value of the Property in dispute does not exceed ten lakh rupees. The Central Government in consultation with the central authority may increase this limit. In case of the Lok Adalat, there is no such limitation.
Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on various subjects including Jurisprudence, Hindu Law and Environmental Laws.