The Lok Adalat is a dispute resolution procedure used as an alternative to
the traditional court system. To put it another way, it is one method of
settling disagreements. It is a venue for the peaceful resolution of
disputes/cases pending in a court of law or at the pre-trial stage. Lok Adalats
have been accorded legal recognition under the Legal Services Act passed in
1987. A judgment made by Lok Adalats is considered a public court decision and
is final and enforceable by all parties. A Lok Adalat verdict cannot be
challenged in a court of law because of the Act's provisions.
The Apex Court, in Estate Officer vs Colonel HV Mankotia (Retired) in Civil
Appeal No. 6223 of 2021, delivered a clear and convincing judgement on October
7, 2021, stating unequivocally that Lok Adalat has no authority to rule on the
merits if the parties are unable to achieve a compromise or agreement between
It should be noted that an Apex Court bench comprised of Justice MR Shah and
Justice AS Bopanna said that the Lok Adalat's jurisdiction would be to determine
and reach a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute. Following
an examination of the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987,
the Apex Court also observed that the Lok Adalat's jurisdiction would be limited
to determining and reaching a compromise or settlement among parties to a
dispute, and that if the aforesaid settlement / compromise fails and no
compromise or settlement can be reached between the parties, the Lok Adalat must
return the case to the Court from which the reference has been received for
disposal, i.e. the High Court.
The original writ petitioner filed this appeal in light of his dissatisfaction
with the impugned order dated 30.11.2013 passed by the Madhya Pradesh High
Court, Indore Bench in Writ Petition No. 8074 of 2011, in which the Lok Adalat
members considered the merits of the writ petition and dismissed it on those
The following is stated in para 2.1: "Following that, the appellant filed a
restoration appeal before the High Court, contending that the order made in the
Lok Adalat is beyond the Lok Adalat's authority and, thus, is not valid in the
eyes of the law." However, the High Court denied the application, resulting in
the current appeal.
The Bench addresses the issue in para five, stating that: "The brief question
before this Court is whether, in the Lok Adalat convened by the High Court, was
it permissible for the Lok Adalat members to consider the merits of the writ
petition and to dismiss it on those grounds in the absence of any settlement
between the parties?
The Bench states in para six that: In determining the question mentioned above,
the relevant sections of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, which would
have had an impact on the Lok Adalat's jurisdiction, must be resorted to, which
are as follows:
Following Section 19, sub-section (5), a Lok Adalat has the authority to
determine and reach a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute
in respect of any case pending before it; or any matter falling within the
jurisdiction of, but not filed in any court for which the Lok Adalat is
Sub-section (1) of Section 20 provides that, in any case referred to in clause I
of sub-section (5) of Section 19: I (a) the parties agree, or I (b) one of the
parties makes an application to the Court for referring the case to the Lok
Adalat for dispute settlement, and the Court is prima facie satisfied that there
is a possibility of settlement; or I (ii) the Court is satisfied that the matter
is appropriate for the Lok Adalat to take cognizance, the Lok Adalat.
Furthermore, the Act states that no matter shall be submitted to the Lok Adalat
under sub-paragraph (b) of clause I or clause II by such Court unless and until
the parties have been given a fair and timely chance to be heard.
According to sub-section (3) of Section 20, when a case is referred to a Lok
Adalat according to sub-section (1) or when a referral is made under sub-section
(2), the Lok Adalat shall proceed to resolve the case or issue and reach a
compromise or settlement between the parties. Additionally, sub-section (5) of
Section 20 provides that if the Lok Adalat does not make an award because no
compromise or settlement could be reached between the parties, it shall return
the case record to the Court from which the reference was received under
sub-section (1) for disposition in accordance with the law.
According to the provisions of the Act, the Lok Adalat's jurisdiction would be
to determine and reach an agreement on a compromise or settlement between the
parties to a dispute, and once the settlement above / compromise fails or if no
agreement on a compromise or settlement could be reached between the parties,
the Lok Adalat would be required to return the case to the Court from which the
reference had been received for disposal in accordance with the law.
Accordingly, the Bench concluded in paragraph 9 that, "In light of the above,
the challenged decision rendered by the Lok Adalat rejecting the writ petition
on merits is unsustainable and needs to be overturned and set aside." According
to the experienced counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent, once the case
was referred to the Lok Adalat with permission, the Lok Adalat was justified in
disposing of the matter on merits. However, his contention is devoid of
substance and must be dismissed entirely by the Court.
The agreement to bring the case before the Lok Adalat was made to facilitate
settlement and/or compromise between the parties, rather than to bring the
matter before the Lok Adalat to adjudicate it on its merits. As indicated in
Section 20's sub-section (5), if the parties fail to reach a compromise and/or
settlement before the Lok Adalat, the case must be remanded to the Court from
whence the matter was referred to Lok Adalat for determination on the merits.
As a result, the impugned judgement of the Lok Adalat, Madhya Pradesh High Court
dated 30.11.2013 in Writ Petition No.8074 of 2011 is quashed and set aside. The
matter has been remanded to the High Court, which will decide the merits of Writ
Petition No. 8074 of 2011 in accordance with the law. As a consequence, the
appeal before us is allowed. No costs order will be made based on the facts and
circumstances of the case. Any outstanding petitions must also be dealt with.
Finally, the inevitable conclusion from the above reasoning is that the Lok
Adalat lacks jurisdiction to hear the issue on its merits if the parties cannot
negotiate a compromise or settlement. This is precisely what the Apex Court
Bench of Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna declared unequivocally, as previously
discussed in detail above.
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Kishan Dutt Kalaskar
Authentication No: MA40269312065-06-0522