From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Lok Adalat and their role
Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of Lok Adalats and concerns over speed undermining idea of justice
The article highlights the important role played by the Lok Adalats in dispute resolution and raises concerns over underminig of justice for the sake of speedy disposal.
Background of Lok Adalat
- The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to ensure “equal justice and free legal aid”.
- To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by Parliament and it came into force in 1995.
- The Act seeks “to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society” and to “organise Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity”.
- 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 dishonour of cheques, and land, labour and matrimonial disputes (except divorce) are usually taken up by Lok Adalats.
Significance of Lok Adalats
- 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.
- Moreover, Lok Adalats are economically affordable, as there are no court fees for placing matters before the Lok Adalat; finality of awards, as 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.
Why Lok Adalats are fast
- When compared to litigation, and even other dispute resolution devices, such as arbitration and mediation, Lok Adalats offer parties speed of settlement.
- Cases are disposed of in a single day.
- The speed is due to procedural flexibility, as there is no strict application of procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
- More importantly, the award issued by a Lok Adalat, after the filing of a joint compromise petition, has the status of a civil court decree.
Some figures about cases disposed
- In 2015 and 2016, ten National Lok Adalats (NLAs) were held each year that disposed of 1,83,09,401 and 1,04,98,453 cases respectively.
- In 2017 and 2018, the number of NLAs dropped to five, with 54,05,867 and 58,79,691 cases settled respectively.
- In 2019, four NLAs were organised, and they disposed of 52,93,273 cases.
- In 2015, the average number of cases settled per NLA was 18,30,940, which came down to 10,81,174 in 2017, but rose to 11,75,939 in 2018, and 13,23,319 cases in 2019.
- This throws up questions about the efficiency of NLAs.
- The data show that the average number of cases disposed of per NLA since 2017 has gone up even when the number of NLAs organised each year has reduced.
- This proves that on average, the system is certainly efficient.
- 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.
- As compromise is its central idea, there is a concern that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice.
- In a majority of cases, litigants are pitted against entities with deep pockets, such as insurance companies, banks, electricity boards, among others.
- In many cases, compromises are imposed on the poor who often have no choice but to accept them.
- 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.
- Even a disaster like the Bhopal gas tragedy was coercively settled for a paltry sum, with real justice still eluding thousands of victims.
Consider the 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?”
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.