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- GS 2 || Polity || Judiciary || Alternate Dispute Resolution
Why in the issue?
- As an alternative dispute resolution tool, Lok Adalats are regularly organised to help parties reach a compromise. Motor-accident claims, disputes related to public-utility services, cases related to the dishonour of cheques, and land, labour and matrimonial disputes (except divorce) are usually taken up by Lok Adalats.
What are Lok adalats?
- 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 the pre-litigation stage are settled/ compromised amicably.
- Article 39A – Article 39A of the Constitution provides for free legal aid to the deprived and weaker sections of the society and to promote justice based on equal opportunity.
- Articles 14 – Articles 14 of the Constitution also make it compulsory for the State to guarantee equality before the law.
- Under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 Lok Adalats have been given statutory status.
- Lok Adalats had existed even before the concept received statutory recognition.
- In 1949, Harivallabh Parikh, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised them in Rangpur, Gujarat.
- The State/District Legal Services Authority or the Supreme Court/High Court/Taluk Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit.
- Every Lok Adalat organised for an area shall consist of the number of serving or retired judicial officers and other persons of the area as may be specified by the agency organising.
- Generally, a Lok Adalat consists of a judicial officer as the chairman and a lawyer (advocate) and a social worker as members.
- National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) along with other Legal Services Institutions conducts Lok Adalats.
- NALSA was constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which came into force on 9th November 1995 to establish a nationwide uniform network for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Powers of Lok Adalat
- Under the Code of Civil Procedure, the Lok Adalat would have the same powers as a Civil Court (1908).
- A Lok Adalat shall requisite powers to specify its procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it.
- Powers of a civil court
- Every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for the Code of Criminal Procedure(1972), and all proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the scope of the Indian Penal Code (1860).
- Decision is binding
- A Lok Adalat’s decision is definitive, final and binding on all parties involved in the conflict. There shall be no appeal to any court against Lok Adalat’s decision.
Significance of Lok Adalats
- Access to Justice for everyone
- The Lok Adalats are formed to fulfil the promise given by the preamble of the Indian Constitution– securing Justice – social, economic and political of every citizen of India.
- Lok Adalats were established to make justice accessible and affordable to all. It was a forum to address the problems of crowded case dockets outside the formal adjudicatory system.
- Lok Adalats are economically affordable, as there are no court fees for placing matters before it and no further appeal is allowed.
- As a result, litigants are forced to approach Lok Adalats mainly because it is a party-driven process, allowing them to reach an amicable settlement.
- As per the National Judicial Data Grid, 16.9% of all cases in district and taluka courts are three to five years old.
- For High Courts, 20.4% of all cases are five to 10 years old, and over 17% are 10-20 years old.
- Furthermore, over 66,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court, over 57 lakh cases before various HCs, and over 3 crore cases are pending before various district and subordinate courts.
e- Lok Adalats
- To overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, e- Lok Adalats were organised at both the national and state level.
- However, the first national e-Lok Adalat was conducted both physically and virtually using video-conferencing tools, and it disposed of 10,42,816 cases. But this was less than the average of settled cases in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
- This suggests that the performance of the Nela was less efficient than the physical National Lok Adalats organised in previous years.
Challenges and drawbacks of Lok Adalats
- Unnecessary delay in the dispensation of justice
- A major drawback of the Lok Adalats is that if the parties do not arrive at any compromise or settlement, the case is either returned to the court of law or the parties are advised to seek a remedy in a court of law.
- Conciliatory role of Lok adalats
- The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function.
- Undermining the idea of justice
- As compromise is its central idea, there is a concern, and perhaps a valid one, that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice.
- In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them.
- In most cases, such litigants have to accept discounted future values of their claims instead of their just entitlements, or small compensations, just to bring a long-pending legal process to an end.
- Poor at stake
- Similarly, poor women under the so-called ‘harmony ideology’ of the state are virtually dictated by family courts to compromise matrimonial disputes under a romanticised view of marriage.
A dispute resolution avenue- An analysis
- The State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) have been organising Lok Adalats on a daily, fortnightly and monthly basis.
- Data from the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) show that Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of 52,46,415 cases.
- As per data from NALSA, subject matter-specific NLAs were organised in 2015 and 2016 every month.
- However, from 2017, this practice was discontinued. Thereafter, each NLA has been handling all types of cases on a single day. This was done to reduce the costs of organising the NLAs, and more importantly, to allow parties more negotiation time.
- But this, in turn, led to a significant drop in the number of cases settled.
- In 2015, the average number of cases settled per NLA was more than in 2019.
- However, besides efficiency and speed, Lok Adalats both online and offline should focus on the quality of justice delivered.
- A just outcome of a legal process is far more important than expeditious disposal, so what we need is concrete and innovative steps in improving the quality of justice rendered by National Lok Adalats.
Mains model question
- Examine the significance of Lok Adalats as an alternative dispute resolution tool. What are the concerns with speedy disposal of cases by Lok Adalats?”