ADR: Lok Adalat
● Jitendra Sethi, a daily wage worker from the Kandhamal district of Odisha has lodged a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lok Adalatafter failing to get his Aadhar card after more than 20 attempts.
● He reasoned that the Prime Minister was responsible for the implementation of Aadhar, therefore he lodged a complaint against him.
Discuss the importance of Lok Adalats with possible pitfalls that have hampered its success so far. Also, suggest some measures to improve Lok Adalats.
● The 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976added Article 39A to the Directive Principles of State Policy which talks about ensuring equal justice and free legal aid.
● Lok Adalats were granted statutory status with the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987.
● There are three types of Lok Adalats - National Lok Adalats, Permanent Lok Adalats and Mobile Lok Adalats.
● National Lok Adalats are simultaneously organized across all of India, on a single day and at regular intervals. The aim is to dispose of a large number of cases on a single day.
● Permanent Lok Adalats are set up under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. These are permanent bodies that function as full-time Alternate Dispute Redressalforums.
● Mobile Lok Adalats are set up across the country and they are tasked with travelling across different locations and settling disputes.
● Serving or retired judges are appointed to the benches at the Lok Adalats. At times eminent personalities may also be appointed.
● Lok Adalats perform a conciliatory role and not the role of a judge, they, therefore, try to persuade parties to come to a compromise and settle disputes amicably without approaching the formal courts.
Positives of Lok Adalats:
● Speedy redressal of disputes: Disputes in Lok Adalats are settled quicker as compared to formal courts which provide time-bound justice to parties.
● Simplified procedures: The Lok Adalats do not rely on cumbersome court procedures and are instead guided by principles of Natural Justice which helps resolve disputes in a simplified manner.
● Last-mile justice delivery: Lok Adalats disputes are solved at the grassroots level. Cases are identified in a given area and Lok Adalats are conducted there which reduces the distance litigants have to travel thus providing last-mile justice delivery.
● Affordable justice: Parties do not have to pay any fees to take part in the Lok Adalats nor do they have to avail of the services of a lawyer. Furthermore, if a case is transferred from the courts to the Lok Adalats, the court fees are refunded to the parties. Thus, Lok Adalats provide justice that is affordable to the common man.
● Consent based approach: Lok Adalats rely on dispute resolution between the parties using their free and fair consent. As a result, decisions are more acceptable to the parties.
● Reduces burden on judiciary: As per data from March 2020 provided by the Minister of Law and Justice in the Lok Sabha, Regular Lok Adalats have settled 20,00,437 cases and National Lok Adalats have settled 81,55,052 cases pending in High Courts and Lower Courts. This has helped reduce pendency in the judiciary which is overburdened with cases.
Challenges present in the system:
● Lok Adalat cases are settled by compromise and settlement which cannot be used to solve all cases. This can lead to the settlement being forced especially in cases where there exists an asymmetry in the social standing and influence of the litigants.
● The practice of dealing with specific types of disputes on the same day has been discontinued leading to a drop in the number of cases being settled.
● The quest for speedy justice might lead to speed being prioritizedover justice leading to decisions that are not fair to the aggrieved party.
● Parties who are not satisfied with the decision of the Lok Adalatcannot approach any other court for redress. They must approach an appropriate court and begin fresh proceedings.
● Former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi said that the Lok Adalat system could lead to a dual system of justice where formal courts are accessible to the rich while the poor have to seek Lok Adalats.
● There is a need to promote Lok Adalats as a frequent method of dispute resolution as compared to the current system where it is seen as an alternative method. This will further increase the legitimacy of Lok Adalats and increase voluntary participation.
● The work of the judicial officers must be restructured to ensure that Lok Adalats are an integral part of their duty.
● The scheduling of Lok Adalats must have predictability by determining the schedule at the beginning of the year with specific dates.
● Efforts should be made to popularize and spread awareness about Lok Adalats and especially the Mobile Lok Adalats.
● Central data should be maintained about the cases that are referred to the Lok Adalats. The data can help to identify the priority areas for popularizing Lok Adalats
● Infrastructure support such as IT help, dedicated staff etc. should be provided to Lok Adalats to make them more efficient.