In this article, Ram Maroo pursuing Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata, elaborates on Permanent Lok Adalats.

Introduction

It is a perception that Lok Adalats is not considered to be a court in its conventional sense i.e. it does not adjudicate on facts by the application of law but on the contrary it encourages the parties to solve their disputes using other means such as conciliation to reach an amicable settlement which gets crystallized into the award of the Lok Adalat.

Based upon the Gandhian Principles,[1]Lok Adalat is one of the most important components of the ADR system operating in India.[2]

The Judge of the Lok Adalat plays an evaluative and a suggestive role and helps the parties to negotiate and reach a mutual and an acceptable settlement. The whole emphasis in Lok Adalat proceedings is on conciliation rather than adjudication[3] and the entire process is based on effective and active participation and negotiation between the parties.

Lok Adalats gained a lot of popularity during the 1980’s and was therefore granted a statutory recognition by mandating Article 39 of the Constitution of India which ultimately led to the enactment of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 on November 9th 1995.[4] Justice at Lok Adalats are provided by giving both the parties an equal opportunity to secure their position. Principles of ‘audi alterem partem hence, natural justice is duly followed before passing any order.

Permanent Lok Adalats

Unlike any other courts or tribunals, Permanent Lok Adalats works on a regular basis for permanent dispute resolution. However, the Legal Services Authorities Act was amended in the year 2002[5] and the chapter[6] pertaining to Permanent Lok Adalats was inserted.

To be the Chairman of the Permanent Lok Adalat, one must be a District Judge or an Additional District Judge or has held a judicial office higher in rank than that of a District Judge. Two other persons having adequate experience in public utility services are also appointed by the government.[7]

The jurisdiction of the Permanent Lok Adalats can only be invoked at pre-litigation stage by making an application to the Permanent Lok Adalat for the settlement of the dispute. Once, the jurisdiction has been invoked, the parties cannot take a recourse before a court of law. However, the jurisdiction of Permanent Lok Adalats does not relate to any non-compoundable offence[8] or where the value of the property in dispute exceeds Ten Lakhs. Permanent Lok Adalats cannot take cognizance of a matter which is already sub-judice in a court of law.[9]

A permanent Lok Adalat can direct the parties to produce any sort of evidence or any other documents, if the case requires to be before it while conduction a conciliation proceeding. It also must follow the principles of natural justice, fair play and equity, and is not bound by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and The Indian Evidence Act, 1872.[10]

Where the parties reach an agreement on the settlement of the dispute, they have to sign the settlement agreement and the Permanent Lok Adalat then passes an award in terms thereof and must furnish a copy of the agreement to each of the parties concerned.[11] The idea of a Lok Adalat and a permanent Lok Adalat clearly differs here. Where the parties fail to reach a settlement or if the dispute does not relate to any offence, then the matter is decided based upon the merits of the case.[12] Thus, Permanent Lok Adalats have a residuary jurisdiction, in addition to the jurisdiction enjoyed by the Lok-Adalats, to decide the dispute by virtue of Section 22 C (8), even if the parties have failed to resolve the dispute after conciliation.[13]

The award of a permanent Lok Adalat is final and binding upon the parties and on every such person claiming under them and the same is deemed to be a degree of a civil court.[14] No appeal lies against the judgement of the Permanent Lok Adalat and hence, the award is final.[15] The award shall, however, be made by a majority of the members constituting the Permanent Lok Adalat.[16]

Whether Permanent Lok Adalats are an ADR Mechanism?

The classification of the Permanent Lok Adalats as an ADR mechanism has always been in question and much clarification hasn’t been provided with respect to it. In State of Punjab v. Jalour Singh[17] The Supreme Court held that such type of Lok Adalats only have a conciliatory role and the award of the Lok Adalats does not mean and imply any form of an independent verdict or an opinion derived out of the decision-making process.

The second question that comes within the ambit of questioning is whether the concept of Lok Adalats co-exists with this judgement of the Supreme Court. In State of Punjab v. Jalour Singh, the Supreme Court was dealing with an issue involving a Lok Adalat within the definition and the ambit of Sections 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The Permanent Lok Adalats in contradistinction to Lok Adalats have been expressly conferred as an adjudicatory role by the statute.[18] When a matter, at a Permanent Lok Adalat cannot be settled by means of conciliation, it is then statutorily enjoined to decide the dispute of its merit. Therefore, the judgement laid down in the said case, does not apply with Permanent Lok Adalats as because the court was not at all considering the provision as enshrined under Section 22 C (8) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.[19]

Moreover, as soon as the amendments were made to the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, they were challenged, but were upheld by the Supreme Court of India.[20]

In Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Suresh Kumar[21]The Supreme Court observed that permanent lok Adalats have no jurisdiction over matters wherein the parties failed to eventually come to a reasonable settlement. However, if we closely look pon this case, Supreme Court has not considered applying Section 19 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which states that “Continuous Lok Adalats” sometimes are loosely described as “Permanent Lok Adalats” and this shouldn’t be confused with that of Section 22 B (1) of the same Act. Further, the position was itself clarified by the Supreme Court itself in the case of InterGlobe Aviation Ltd. v. N. Satchidanand[22] that a Permanent Lok Adalat has the right to decide the case upon the merits if the parties are unable to reach an amicable situation. The Supreme Court passed a ruling saying that the Parliament has given the authority to the Permanent Lok Adalats to decide the matters upon its merit and therefore it has an adjudicatory role to play.

Hence, it is said that the dispute resolution through the system of Permanent Lok Adalats is an ADR mechanism which is hybrid in nature, and has both adjudicatory and non-adjudicatory trappings that offers a substitute to conventional system of litigation and makes the public free from the system of complexity and rigidity. A permanent Lok Adalat is a special tribunal which is not a court[23] and its decision is not subjected to successive appeals.

Hence, the dispute resolution through permanent lok Adalats is definitely an ADR mechanism and a person who is submitting into this form of conciliation is said to be aware of the law that if in case the dispute is not amicably resolved, the Permanent Lok Adalat would acquire an adjudicatory role.

Conclusion

In practice, the Permanent Lok Adalats have similar benefits to that of a normal Lok Adalat and they suffer from the same disadvantages as well. However, the permanent Lok Adalats functions continuously and they require an additional and a separate expenditure. They provide us with an additional state owned conciliation mechanism with the capacity and the time to deal with a much greater number of complex cases than that of the ordinary Lok Adalats.

References

[1] Mohd. Asad Malik, “Concept of Alternative Dispute Resolution vis-à-vis Lok Adalat”, AIHC Journal 129 (September 2007).

[2] P.T. Thomas v. Thomas Job, AIR 2005 SC 3575, See Also Vijaykumar Shrikrushna Chowbe v. Priya S. Dhanokar, “Lok Adalat – A strategic Forum For Speedy and Equitable Justice”, available at: http://papers.ssrn.com; Lok Adalats have also been described as para judicial Institutions. See Tulika Sen, “Natural Justice and Lok Adalats”, (2007) PL February 7.

[3] Ashwanie Kumar Bansal, Arbitration and ADR 32 (Universal Law Publishing Co, Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 2005).

[4] See Law Commission of India, 222nd Report on Need for Justice-dispensation through ADR, etc (2009).

[5] See Legal Services Authorities (Amendment) Act, 2002 (Act No. 37 of 2002)

[6] Chapter VI-A was introduced in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 with the title “Pre-litigation Conciliation and Settlement.”

[7] S. 22 B(2), Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

[8] United India Insurance Co. Ltd. V. Ajay Sinha, AIR 2008 SC 2398.

[9] Dinesh Kumar v. Balbir Singh, AIR 2008 Himachal Pradesh 59. Such cases which are already pending in courts can only be inferred to a regular Lok Adalat, constituted under Sections 19 and 20 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

[10] S. 22D, Legal Services Act, 1987.

[11] S. 22 C(7), Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

[12] S. 22 C(8), Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

[13] Vijaykumar Shrikrushna Chowbe and Priya S. Dhanokar, “Lok Adalat – A strategic Forum for Speedy and Equitable Justice.” See also, New India Assurance Company Ltd. V. Sabharathanam, AIR 2009 Kerala 71.

[14] In Ram Niwas v. D.D.A., AIR 2007 Delhi 115, it was held that the permanent Lok Adalat is a statutory body in terms of the Legal Services Act, 1987 and its decision must be accepted.

[15] Paras Holidays Pvt. Ltd. V. State of Haryana, 2008 (4) R.C.R (Civil) 367

[16] S. 22 E, Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

[17] AIR 2008 SC 1209.

[18] S. 22 C 9 (8), Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

[19] Pu Lalkanglova Sailo v. Pi Ngurthantluangi Sailo, AIR 2009 Gauhati 39.

[20] S.N. Pandey v. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 543/2002 decided by the honourable Supreme Court of India vide order dated 28/10/2002.

[21] 2011 (4) SCALE 137

[22] (2011) 7 SCC 463.

[23] InterGlobe Aviation Ltd v. N. Satchidanand, (2011) 7 SCC 463.

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