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Lok Adalats as an ADR Mechanism in India

ADR means Alternative Dispute Resolution which includes various methods of settling a dispute without getting into the intricacies of the court. It is a method where parties try to resolve their disputes privately in front of a third-person expert. The decision is binding on the parties like the decision of the court.[1] These processes are an alternative to litigation and can be very beneficial to the parties in dispute. These processes are less time-consuming compared to litigation.[2] Indian system recognises 5 types of methods of ADR:[3]
  • Arbitration
  • Negotiation
  • Conciliation
  • Mediation
  • Lok Adalats

Lok Adalat is a system of a dispensation of justice which has come into existence to grapple with the problem of giving cheap and speedy justices to the people. Lok Adalat as the very name suggests means people's court. 'Lok' stands for people and the 'Adalat' means court. [4]

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 Adalats have been given statutory status under The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987[5]. Under the said Act, the award (decision) made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be a decree of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law.

No Court fee is required for placing the matter before the Lok Adalat. If Court fee has already been paid, the amount will be refunded to the litigants, if their dispute is settled in Lok Adalat according to the rules.[6]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.[7]

Nature of Cases to be referred:

  • Any case pending before any court.
  • Any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court.
Provided that any matter relating to an offence not compoundable under the law shall not be settled in Lok Adalat.[8]


  • Mutation of land cases.
  • Compoundable criminal offences.
  • Family disputes.
  • Encroachment on forest lands.
  • Land acquisition disputes.
  • Motor accident claim.
  • Cases which are not sub-judice.

However, not all civil cases can be referred to Lok Adalats. Only those cases that are not compoundable (cases that cannot be settled by the parties involved) can be referred to Lok Adalat's.

Moreover, the proceedings of the Lok Adalat are informal, and flexible and are not bound by the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act, but are conducted based on principles of natural justice, equity, and fair play. The panel encourages the parties to settle through conciliation and compromise and both parties must agree to participate in the Lok Adalat process, and the decision reached in Lok Adalat is binding and official on both parties and it has the same status as a court decree. The decisions made by Lok Adalats are final and cannot be challenged in any court of law. The process of Lok Adalat is voluntary and involves a conciliatory approach to dispute resolution also parties can approach the forum[9] either by themselves[10] or through their lawyers.[11]

Landmark Judgements
  • S. S. Bola vs. B. D. Sardana (2004)[12]: In this case, the Supreme Court highlighted the importance of Lok Adalats in resolving disputes amicably and reducing the burden on the regular court system. The judgment emphasized the need for promoting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Sukanya Holdings Pvt. Ltd. vs. Jayesh H. Pandya (2003)[13]: The Supreme Court, in this case, emphasized the binding nature of the awards passed by Lok Adalats. The judgment clarified that the decision of a Lok Adalat is final and binding on all parties.
  • State of Punjab & Ors. vs. Jalour Singh & Ors. (2008)[14]: The Supreme Court, in this case, emphasized the importance of Lok Adalats in reducing the backlog of cases in regular courts. It highlighted that the decisions of Lok Adalats have the same legal sanctity as decrees of civil courts.
  • Narmada Bai vs. State of Gujarat (2011)[15]: The Supreme Court reiterated the significance of Lok Adalats in providing speedy and effective justice. The judgment emphasized the need for encouraging parties to opt for Lok Adalats to resolve disputes.

The early history of LAs can be defined by the struggle to provide legal aid in India. This movement was spurred by the concerns of legal scholars and the judiciary who believed that the general population would not have adequate legal representation without access to free legal services. Former Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court N.H. Bhagwati led the first formal and comprehensive inquiry into this dilemma. In 1949, Bhagwati's Committee on Legal Aid and Legal Advice concluded that legal aid was a "governmental responsibility" and that equal protection of the laws placed a duty on the government to provide free legal aid as per Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. In the three decades after the report's release, many more committees and official government reports studied the need for legal aid. The Bhagwati Report of 1976 (officially titled The Report on National Judicature) was the one of the most important instances in which a group of individuals envisioned a court system in the image of LAs. The State of Gujarat was the first major state to acknowledge and establish legal aid in the form of LAs commissioning the Bhagwati Report of 1976, written by a group of jurists including former Supreme Court Justice Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati. Justice Bhagwati propounded the creation of the Committee[16] for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS) after the judgement in the Hussainara Khatoon case.[17] Initially CILAS focussed on spreading legal education and awareness. Lok Adalats were conceptualized later. In 1987 the Lok Sabha passed the Legal Services Authorities Act which provided statutory powers to Lok Adalats and cemented their role in the legal aid movement. In the year 2002, two significant changes took place in the arena of lok adalats in the form of amendments. These developments changed the power and purview of lok adalats. Firstly, the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 was amended as a result of which, the formal courts were empowered to refer cases to lok adalats whenever there existed a possibility of a compromise in the opinion of the Court. The second development was the amendment to the Legal Services Authorities Act which created a modified form of lok adalat called a 'Permanent Lok Adalat'. Permanent lok adalats sit in a permanent location all through the year, rather than being held only on certain dates. The result of these two amendments is that it is now legally permissible for a judge to refer a case to a permanent lok adalat without the parties' consent, and further, for the judge in the lok adalat to decide a settlement to a case without consent of either party. However, a 2004 ruling reinforced the idea that lok adalat rulings are invalid without the consent of both parties.[18]

The purpose for the institution of Lok Adalats is threefold:
  • It envisaged providing free legal aid to the needy in order to ensure that justice is not denied to them.
  • It made an attempt in reducing the role economic status played in seeking justice.
  • It also aimed towards relieving the pressure upon the overburdened formal court system in India. Lok adalats were thus expected to transform the society through law.

Problems Pertaining to Lok Adalats
The LA system has struggled to provide justice to the public in five ways.[19]
  • First, disputants have provided numerous examples of dissatisfaction with LAs as a result of the conduct of judges and lawyers. Legal scholars Marc Galanter and Jayanth Krishnan, who conducted a series of interviews on LAs, found that the forum no longer provides the swift and fair justice upon which people had come to rely. Some of the issues that affected disputants include: poor relationship between judges and lawyers, unpreparedness, and pressure to settle.
  • Second issue is the adversarial nature of LAs. Rural villagers prefer settlement through an informal medium. To most, it is socially and morally desirable to reach a compromise outside of court, created in an informal atmosphere where there is no winner or loser. Consequently, the adversarial process is considered too formal and is therefore used as a last resort.
  • The third issue is that the LA system has failed to provide justice to the public is that, of the LA mediations that did succeed, such success was due to one or two judges who made a special effort to completely understand the issue, the parties, and devise a proper resolution. In many situations, it was this judicial dedication that enabled conciliation rather than the informal structure of the LAs. Consequently, without motivated judges and lawyers, conciliation is unlikely.
  • Fourth, in rural LAs, there are numerous unsuccessful attempts at conciliations because judges and lawyers fail to understand the relationship between disputants., the parties have a long history of caste or tribal conflict. In some examples, the source of issues between parties, even if known, is simply ignored when a resolution is suggested.
  • Fifth, even if the parties decide against mediation and go to court, they might have to wait up to ten years before their case is heard. This makes the option of going to court unfeasible and causes the LA system to appear as an involuntary process.

Way Forward
The inability to invoke the processes of law by those whom the law is meant to empower highlights the need to spread awareness of the existence of the institution of lok adalats. This inability owes to a variety of reasons, principally the fear of reprisal from the upper castes. Moreover, there is a lack of study and research in the area of how the poor perceive the laws, the legal system and the personnel they encounter within it.

There is a need for constant review and assessment of the programmes and plans to ensure their continued relevance to those they are meant to serve. There ought to be a regular check on the functioning of lok adalats. Lok adalats were functioning perfectly well in many provinces without regulation or statutory powers.[21]

Bringing them under the influence of state legal aid boards only served to destroy the concept of informal community dispute resolution that was the strength of the pre-1987 lok adalats. Rather, modern lok adalats are simply an imitation of the formal court system, a "disrobed ineffectual tribunal" that lacks the benefits of the original model. In other words, the institutionalization of lok adalats paved way for the central government to increase its control over the rural population.

In order to get a meaningful insight into the actual working of lok adalats it is necessary to introspect whether the rich, the middle classes, the poor, or the extremely poor most often use lok adalats; whether any discrepancies exist between how lok adalats treat the cases of each; whether cases are between litigants of similar economic status, or there are cases in which one litigant has significantly greater financial resources; whether this has any effect on the outcome of these cases; whether lawyers are involved in a considerable number of cases or not; whether this has an effect on the outcomes of the trials; whether the individuals using lok adalats have come into contact with a legal institution for the first time, or they are predominantly individuals who had previously been engaged with the formal courts but prefer lok adalat; whether lok adalats have provided the most vulnerable in the Indian society with a first chance to pursue legal solutions, or whether they have largely moved cases from one legal system into another, or both. However, there is an absence of adequate data and empirical research in this arena. Moreover, there is a lack of interest on the part of officials to answer the questions which are not reflected by means of empirical data.

Only when such facts become known, can the success of lok adalats be ascertained and the mechanism of lok adalats be developed to its full potential and to the benefit of the litigants, judiciary and the country at large.[22]

Lok Adalats have become an integral part of the Indian legal system and have become the apertures for access to justice for the poor and downtrodden. The have bridged the gap to legal aid, but still have certain areas of improvement which could increase their efficiency even more. While they are acting well to bridge the gap of "access" to justice, there needs to be a review of their effectivity in providing aggrieved parties true access to "justice". With finality, one can conclude that there is more than meets the eye which can be done to make Lok Adalats a better redressal system towards rising litigation.

  1. 'Law of Arbitration in India & Alternative Dispute Resolution' (Lexology, 10 October 2023)
  2. accessed 27 December 2023
  3. Ibid
  4. Ranchit Garg, 'An overview of challenges in ADR mechanism in India'(Ipleaders, 28 May 2003) accessed 27 December 2023
  5. Mohd Aqib Aslam, 'Lok Adalat: Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism In India' (Legal Service India) accessed 27 December 2023
  6. The Legal Services Act, 1987 (IND)
  7. 'Benefits of Lok Adalat' (Supreme Court Legal Services Committee) accessed 28 December 2023
  8. 'Lok Adalat' (National Legal Services Authority) accessed 27 December 2023
  9. Ibid
  10. Ritika, 'Lok Adalat and its roles, functions and jurisdiction'(, 23 March 2023) accessed 27 December 2023
  11. 'Lok Adalat' (National Legal Services Authority),Legal%20Services%20Authorities%20Act%2C%201987. accessed 27 December 2023
  12. S. K. Sarkar, Law Relating to Lok Adalats and Legal Aid: Being Commentary on the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 with Central & State Rules,( 1st edn, Oriented Publishing 2004)
  13. S. S. Bola v. B. D. Sardana, (1997) 8 SCC 522
  14. Sukanya Holdings Pvt. Ltd. v. Jayesh H. Pandya, (2003) 5 SCC 531
  15. State of Punjab & Ors. v. Jalour Singh & Ors, (2008) 2 SCC 660
  16. Narmada Bai v. State of Gujarat, 2011 5 SCC 79
  17. Vinita Choudhury, 'The Functioning of Lok Adalats in India� A critical analysis' 2021 2(1) NLIU Law Review accessed 28 December 2023
  18. Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1979 S.C. 1369.
  19. State of Punjab and Ors. v. Phulan Rani and Anr., (2004) 7 S.C.C. 555
  20. Tameem Zainulbhai, 'Justice for All: Improving the Lok Adalat System in India' (2016) 35 (1) Fordham Intl Law Journal accessed 28 December 2023
  21. Ibid
  22. V.R Krishna Iyer, Legal Services Authorities Act: A Critique (1st edn, Society for Community Organisation Trust 1988)
  23. Vinita Choudhury, 'The Functioning of Lok Adalats in India� A critical analysis' 2021 2(1) NLIU Law Review accessed 28 December 2023

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