Updated: Mar 14, 2021
The need for a justice redressal system is not a mere modern day phenomena, or to be said in the Indian context, not a post- colonial feature. A country of substantial rural background, the village panchayats have been responsible for imparting justice in most part of the Indian territory long before it got statutory recognition. As the modern justice delivery system structured one would assume that this age old practice would have been done away with. But with the newly found problems with the modern justice system the system of lok adalats found relevance in the scenario.
Lok adalats have been given statutory status under the National Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. Its establishment is based on its capability of aiding the justice system and the people at large, for it takes away the burden over the judiciary and also rescues the justice seekers from the ever-destructive cycle of litigation. Though this form of jurisprudence dates back to centuries ago, to see its compatibility with the current scenario, it had first taken place as part of the project under Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Scheme (CILAS) in 1982. It had then come out as a successful mechanism to resolve poor people’s issues related to civil matters. And thence got its place U/S 18 of the NALSA Act 1987.
As per section 18(1) the Lok Adalats shall take any case not being a non compoundable offence, which is pending before a court of its jurisdiction or which has not been filed yet in any court of law and comes within its jurisdiction. Similarly any case can be referred to the Lok Adalat which is either pending before a court of law or is in its pre- litigative state, by making an application to the District Legal Service Authority or State Legal Service Authority. The institution consituted under the section are only empowered to bring in settlement or compromise, and to award compensation. Whereas the permanent Lok Adalats built are empowered to settle the disputes themselves when the parties fail to arrive at a settlement.
Though the Lok Adalats only resolve considerably petty matters at hand; they are headed and presided by not a lesser competent authority. As per section 19(2) of the Act every Lok Adalat is to be presided by a retired judge or a person of such qualification as prescribed by the Central Government in consultation with the CJI.
Considered as one of the most effective form of ADR(alternate dispute resolution) system, Lok Adalats don’t treat the issues as disputes to be resolved but the differences between the parties which can be resloved by conciliatry and pursuasive efforts. The Lok Adalats accept the cases as prescirbed U/S 18 of the Act with the only condition in hand that the parties are ready for settlement. The matters when taken go through the justice process aka, the mediation process. The settlement so arrived at are reduced into writing and accordingly based on it, a decree is awarded. No court fee is taken in the process. Hence the system of Lok Adalats not only saves time but also resources.
The relevance of this Lok Adalat is in its approach towards the poor. Around 34 percent of the poor live in India. Most of the rural population which by the way accounts for the substantial population of the country; is indigent, illeterate lacking awareness about their legal rights. If this populace has to go through the normal course of litigation and conventional juris system, they might end up waiting for years to attain justice or not be able to receive at all due to lack of resources. Lok adalats come as a saviour towards both these crises, providing justice at a speedy pace, without requiring payment of any fees of litigation or court, and on their doorsteps. It creates not only peace but also a culture of compromise. It provides a rendezvous for social amity and affinity and social justice. Thus the Lok Adalats have been construed as a very effective way of resolving disputes at the grass root level as it aims at benefitting the litigants and not the litigators. But some problems do hinder the application and approach of the Lok Adalats. But they can be remedied easily by a more active involvement of the prescribed authority and the people. Firstly, by making it a regular duty of juicial officers to institute Lok Adalats instead of an additional workload, secondly working towards evolving it as a regular mode of adjudicating matters.
 R. Swaroop, “Legal Service/Aid and Lok Adalat”.  Ibid.  Section 22-B of the Act 1987.  Section 19(3) of the Act 1987.  Dineshbhai Dhemenrai v. State of Gujarat, 2001 (1) GLR 603  Mr. Loknath Mohapatra Dr. Rangin Pallav Tripathy Mr. Badri Narayan Nanda Mr. Satya Prakash Raychoudhury “An Analysis of the functioning of Lok Adalats in the Eastern Region of India”, Pg. 172.
Author -Pragati Gupta
Student of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.