The Lok Adalat
Lok Adalats, (Peopleï¿½s Courts), established by the government, settle disputes through conciliation and compromise. The first Lok Adalat was held in Chennai in 1986. The Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or retired judicial officer as chairman, with two other members, usually a lawyer and a social worker. There is no court fee. If the case is already filed in a regular court, the fee paid is refunded if the dispute is decided by the Lok Adalat. The procedural laws and the Evidence Act are not strictly adhered to by the Lok Adalats while assessing the merits of claims. The major requirement of the Lok Adatat is that both parties in dispute should agree for mutual settlement.
The decision of the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and its order is capable of execution through the legal process. No appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat. Lok Adalat is a forum where the disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage and thereafter are settled/compromised amicably. The Lok Adalat has been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The objective of the Act is to provide free legal service to the weaker sections of society. It provides equal apportunities to secure justice. Under this Act, an award made by a Lok Adalat is deemed to be a decree of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and for such decisions, no appeal lies against thereto before any court.
Lok Adalats are being organized by the Legal Services Authorities/Committees under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Matters such as Matrimonial/Family Disputes, Criminal (Compoundable Offences) cases, Land Acquisition Cases, Labour Disputes, Workmenï¿½s Compensation cases, Bank Recovery cases, Pension cases, Housing Board and slum clearance cases and Housing Finance cases, Consumer Grievance cases, Electricity matters, disputes relating to Telephone Bills, Municipal matter including House Tax cases, Disputes with Cellular Companies, etc., are taken up in Lok Adalats.
The act provides the following powers for the Lok Adalat:
- Firstly, a Lok Adalat can summon or enforce the attendance of a witness in a dispute and also has the power to examine the witness on the oath.
- Secondly, Lok Adalat has a power to discover or can ask the person in whose possession, any document, which is important to the dispute lies, to produce the document in the Lok Adalat. v Thirdly, Lok Adalats have the power to receive the evidence on affidavits, which may be useful in the settlement of the dispute between the parties.
- Fourthly, Lok Adalats can enjoy their powers over any such matters which are prescribed in the Act. Fifthly, the Lok Adalats have the power of requisitioning of any public record or document or copy of such document or record from any court or office.
With a view to providing compulsory pre-litigative mechanism for conciliation and settlement of disputes relating to ï¿½Public Utility Servicesï¿½, the Parliament has amended the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The amended Act stipulates the establishement of Permanent Lok Adalat for exercising jurisdiction in respect of disputes relating to Public Utility Services, such as transport service, postal communication, supply of power, service in hospital/dispensary, insurance service, etc. A party to a dispute with such public utility service has to make an application to the Permanent Lok Adalat established under Section 22B of the Legal Services (Amendment) Act, 2002 which has been vested with jurisdiction to decide the matter. Subsequent to the amendment, the Permanent Lok Adalats for Public Utility Services have been established in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura and U.T. of Chandigarh.
Lok Adalats have proved to be an effective mechanism for resolving the disputes through conciliatory methods. Up to 2010 about 25,000 Lok Adalats had been held in different parts of the country where about lakhs of cases were settled. In about a lakh motor vehicles accident claim cases, compensation amounting to over one billion rupees was awarded. The usefulness of the Lok Adalat can be summed up:
(i) There is no court fee and if the case is already filed in a regular court, the fee paid is refunded and then the dispute is settled in the Lok Adalat.
(ii) There is no rigid application of procedural laws and the Evidence Act while assessing the merits of the claim by the Lok Adalat.
(iii) Disputes can be brought before the Lok Adalat directly and on mutual consent.
(iv) The decision of the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and its order is capable of execution through the legal process. No appeal lies against the order of the Lok Adalat.
(v) The Lok Adalat provides speedy justice.
(vi) It is most inexpensive. A permanent and continuous Lok Adalat Scheme has been formulated and implemented to establish Lok Adalats under Section 19 in all the districts of the country.
Under the scheme, the Lok Adalats are regularly organized where unsettled cases are taken up, functioning in ways away from legal technicalities. The features of Lok Adalat may, thus, be summed up as follows:
- It is based on settlement or compromise reached through negotiation; v It is a winï¿½win system where all the parties to the dispute have something to gain;
- The parties to a dispute can interact directly with the presiding officer;
- Lok Adalat has powers of a civil Court;
- The award passed by the Lok Adalat is deemed to be a decree of a civil court;
- An award passed by the Lok Adalat is final and no appeal is maintainable in any court; and
- An award passed by the Lok Adalat can be executed by the courts. To conclude, it may be emphasized that the Lok Adalats, as a part of alternate dispute resolution method is, in fact, an effective way of settlement in an amicable manner.
Written by princy