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Importance of Lok Adalats in Helping Needy People

"Democracy is a Government of the people, by the people and for the people." This famous quote is said by Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the United States), if will link it to the Lok Adalat, we can say that Lok Adalat is simply a court of the people, by the people and for the people.

As the number of cases increasing day-by-day it becomes difficult for the courts to cope up with the gaps which results in increase in the number of pending cases in the Indian Judiciary. Lok Adalat is one of the foundation which has been developed as a most important modes of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system in India.

As people live together in the society, conflicts, problems and disputes arises so to resolve them in the courts, efforts, money and valuable time is much needed. The judicial system is overflowing with the numerous cases which requires time and too much efforts in order to get justice.

So to resolve this problems and disputes which has arisen, Alternative Dispute Resolution is practised in India in the form of Lok Adalat. The methods like Arbitration. Mediation and Conciliation are in most use, instead of going for litigation in the Courts to resolve disputes and Lok Adalat is considered as a blend of these three forms of traditional ADR systems.

Lok Adalat And Its Origin

Lok Adalat is prevailing from ancient India and is considered as an old form of adjudicating. Nyaya Panchayats and Gram Panchayats exists there for resolving conflicts in village or rural areas on an immediate basis which is seen as a long history of resolving disputes through the mediation of village elders.

By introducing Lok Adalats, a new chapter is added in the dispensation of justice and it succeeded in providing a forum to the victims for adequate or sufficient settlements of their disputes. Lok Adalat is also called as " People's Court", which is based on Gandhian principles. Due to overburden of cases, the regular courts sometimes take years to settle even petty cases.

The Lok Adalat is successful and fruitful because of its economic system, speedy relief, inexpensive justice and wide acceptance from public and lawful authority. It gives informal, cheap, quick and prompt justice to a commoner by way or method of settling disputes.

Statutory Status Of Lok Adalat In India

Article-39A was inserted in the Indian Constitution by way of 42nd Amendment Act of the Constitution, which provides equal justice and free Legal Aid to the poor and needy. The Article reads as "the state shall secure that the operation of legal system promotes justice, on the basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free Legal Aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities."

The term "shall" was used in the Article- 39A which makes it compulsory and mandatory to be followed by the state. The Lok Adalat is designed to promote justice which is Social, Economic, Political and give "Access to Justice"- an ability to participate in the judicial process.

Initial camps of Lok Adalat were started in Gujarat at Junagadh district in the year 1982, and this initiative proved to be very successful in the settlement of disputes. This programme was soon adopted by several other states such as, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka etc and gained popularity by spreading to other parts of the country. As a result, The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 has been enacted by the Parliament which has given the statutory recognition to the Lok Adalats in India. The Act is a combined enactment covering Legal Aid and Lok Adalat, and focus at providing free and capable legal services to weaker sections of the community.

Powers, Functions And Jurisdiction Of The Lok Adalats

The Taluk Legal Services Committee or the High Court Legal Services Committee or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or the State or the District Legal Services Authority may organise Lok Adalats periodically at such places and timings for exercising such jurisdiction and for such area as it thinks fit or as they determine.

The Lok Adalat shall consist of a Chairman and two members, and one social worker. The Chairman must be a sitting or retired judicial officer, and other two members should be a lawyer (Advocate).

Jurisdiction:- The Lok Adalat has the jurisdiction to determine the cases that are pending before any Court, or any other matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of any court and not brought before such Court earlier. The case pending before the court can be referred to Lok Adalat if:
  1. both the parties agreed to settle the dispute in Lok Adalat or,
  2. if one of the parties makes an appeal to the court referring the case to Lok Adalat or,
  3. if the court thinks fit that the matter is suitable for Lok Adalat.
If the case is in the pre- litigation stage, the matter can be referred to Lok Adalat for settlement, if a request is made from any one of the parties to the dispute.

Cases taken up in the Lok Adalats: Matrimonial or Family disputes, Compoundable criminal cases, Land Acquisition cases, Bank recovery and unpaid loan cases, Bonded labour cases, compensation claims of Motor Accident and workmen, Electricity matters, Pension cases, Consumer grievances cases, Housing Finance cases, Slum clearance cases, Cellular Companies and Telephone Bill disputes, Municipal matters including House Tax cases etc.

There shall be no jurisdiction of Lok Adalat to give judgement in respect of any matter or case which is not covered under any law. In other words, the cases which are non-compoundable under any law fall outside the purview of Lok Adalat.

Powers: Lok Adalat have same powers as Civil Court have under the Code of Civil Procedure (1908) while attempting a suit in respect of matters:
  1. To summon and enforce the presence of any witness and to examine him/her on pledge;
  2. The finding and making of any document;
  3. The reception of verification on affidavits;
  4. To further question of any open record or document from any court; and
  5. Such other issues or matters as may be prescribed or recommended.

Lok Adalat also have power to clear or determine its decision making procedure of any dispute coming before it and the decision made by Lok Adalat is considered to be a verdict of a Civil Court and is ultimate and binding on all parties. No appeal shall lie to any Court against the award or verdict of Lok Adalat.

How Lok Adalat Is Helpful In Present Scenario?

As Lok Adalat is conducted at suitable places, they can be arranged fastly and in local languages, which provides a speedy justice even to the illiterates.

The parties which are involved in the disputes can have direct interaction with the Judge through their advocate which is not possible in general courts of law.

If we talk about the fees, no Court fees charged in the Lok Adalat, and if fees is paid already, the amount will be refunded if the dispute is settled in Lok Adalat, which is helpful for the people who are not financially stable and want to seek justice free of cost.

Most of the people prefer to resolve their dispute outside the court, they fear of Court litigation due to delay in the procedure. Thus, in Lok Adalat dispute settlement takes place outside the court.

The Lok Adalat results in the compromise between the parties, it acts as a conciliater. Principles of natural justice which is accessible to everyone is the main aim in the formation of Lok Adalat. As disputes are resolved amicably the cordial relations between the parties are maintained and their relationship is restored. Thus, it can be considered as healthy manner or method of dispute resolution in India.

Suggestions And Conclusion
Most of the population in India is illiterate, which seek justice from general courts of law for which they have to pay huge costs, for this situation Lok Adalat can be seen as an effective and strong legal service for Poor and needy people.

Lok Adalat become an effective part of India and it is high time to bring such disputes and matters under the jurisdiction of Lok Adalat which do not fall under its domain.

There is a need to modify the current model of Lok Adalat and include disputes like Business disputes which involve public at large, under its jurisdiction. To expand the proficiency of the organisation of Lok Adalats, it is important for people, the legal advisors, the officials and the Judiciary to work amicably and in coordination. The general public to be made mindful of the upsides of the Lok Adalats.

The concept of Lok Adalat proved to be a success in practice as it adopts the idea of "equal access to justice" which is the necessity in a country like India. To achieve Gandhian principles of Gram Swaraj, more and more number of Lok Adalats needs to be organised.

Written By: Kriti Rathore, Pursuing BALLB (4th Year) From School Of Law, DAVV, Indore.

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