This article has been written by PS Amrit pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Civil Litigation: Practice, Procedure and Drafting from LawSikho.
A Judgement of Chhattisgarh High Court in news recently reestablished the limited jurisdiction and power of Lok Adalat. Chhattisgarh High Court’s Single judge bench in the case of K.K. Distributors v. the State of Chhattisgarh decided the case by giving the ratio that ‘the award’ and ‘the determination’ of Lok Adalats under the Legal Services Authorities Act must be a non-adjudicatory determination on the basis of consensus, settlement, and compromise between the parties arrived at with the help of Lok Adalat. On the other hand, there is no need for it to be an adjudication arrived at judiciously or a judicial determination.
Brief facts of the case
This case was a result of a complaint made under Section 18(a)(vi), 18(B), 27(d), and 27(A) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 read with Rules 65(3), 65(4)(4), 65(5)(3), and 65(6) of Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945. In the course of the case trial, the state and the other party decided to compromise and compound the case, therefore, the court ordered the officer competent for the compounding of the case to be present. But when the court referred the case to Lok Adalat, it passed an order stating that the offense which is to be compounded here is a non-compoundable offense and hence gave an order opposing the court and deciding on merit which is beyond the power of Lok Adalat. This order of the Lok Adalat dismissing the compounding application was challenged by the party in Chhattisgarh High Court.
The contention of the Petitioner’s counsel was that it is beyond the power of the Lok Adalat to pass an order based on merit. The Lok Adalat erred in passing such order instead of it had an option to refer the case to the competent court for the adjudication of the matter on merit.
The judgment of the Court
The Chhattisgarh High Court referred to the case of Moideen Sevamandir v. A.M. Kutty Hassan, 2009 and reiterated the scope of Lok Adalat that it has one and only task to put a seal on the compromise arrived at between the parties and pass an order according to that compromise. If in any case, the Lok Adalat is unable to help the parties to reach out a compromise then all the records of the case are returned to the competent court for it to be disposed of according to law. The Hon’ble Court also stated that any Lok Adalat has no power to imitate the trial conducted by a regular court i.e. hearing the parties and deciding the case on merit. It only helps the parties in their discussions to reach a compromise.
The Lok Adalats work on the principle of equity, justice, and fair play in assisting the parties to reach a conclusion and they play a role like a referee. ‘The award’ and ‘the determination’ of Lok Adalats under the Legal Services Authorities Act must be a non-adjudicatory determination on the basis of consensus, settlement, and compromise between the parties arrived at with the help of Lok Adalat. On the other hand, there is no need for it to be an adjudication arrived at judiciously or a judicial determination.
The term ‘Award’ in the matter of a Lok Adalat is not a decision or verdict passed after going through the legal process. On the other hand, it only implies that a settlement is made between the parties through a conciliatory act of Lok Adalat. With the application of these observations, the Chhattisgarh High Court stated that the Lok Adalat cannot exceed its powers and jurisdiction by passing an award that the offense is non-compoundable, on the basis of the merits of the case.
Laws with respect to Lok Adalats
For the first time Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave Lok Adalats a statutory status. Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution also supports this concept of legal help to weaker strata of the society.
Some features of Lok Adalats
- Its job is to reach a compromise or settlement through negotiations between the parties.
- In a civil or criminal suit, one party wins and other parties lose, but in Lok Adalats both parties enjoy victory as both of them gain something after the Award.
- It is a type of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) as defined under Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. It is an alternative remedy for securing justice.
- In Lok Adalats no court fee needs to be paid, if in some cases it is paid then it will be refunded. So, it is a pocket-friendly remedy.
- In the process of a court, no party can interact with the judge, but in Lok Adalats the parties can interact with the presiding officer.
- In certain cases, the Lok Adalat may be considered as a civil court.
- All the Lok Adalats possess some of the powers of a civil court.
- When the Lok Adalat passes an ‘Award’, it acts as a decree of any civil court.
- An ‘Award’ of the Lok Adalat cannot be challenged in an Appeal. This ‘Award’ is, therefore, final.
- The Lok Adalat can pass an ‘Award’ only after all parties to the dispute have consented to it.
- Proceedings of a Lok Adalat are not bound by the limits of the Indian Evidence Act and Civil Procedure Code because they do not apply to the Lok Adalats.
- A Permanent Lok Adalat has wider powers such as it can pass an award without the consent of the parties.
Composition of Lok Adalats at different levels
- At State Level
Lok Adalat organized by the member secretary of the State Legal Services Authority constitutes a bench composed of retired or sitting judges of the High Court or any retired or sitting judicial officer and either a legal professional and social worker.
2. At High Court Level
Lok Adalat, organized by the member secretary of the High Court Legal Services Authority, constitutes a bench composed of retired or sitting judges of the High Court and both or either a legal professional and social worker.
3. At District Level
Lok Adalat organized by the member secretary of the District Legal Services Authority constitutes a bench composed of any retired or sitting judicial officer and either both or a legal professional and social worker.
4. At Taluk Level
Lok Adalat organized by the member secretary of the Taluk Legal Services Committee constitutes a bench composed of retired or sitting judges of the High Court or any retired or sitting judicial officer and both or either a legal professional and social worker.
Types of Lok Adalats
- National Lok Adalat
National Level Lok Adalats are held in the country at different levels from Supreme Court to the Taluk Level. In National Level Lok Adalats, a huge number of cases are settled in one day.
2. Permanent Lok Adalat
Organized under Section 22-B of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, Permanent Lok Adalats are in the permanent nature set up having a Chairman and two other members with the objective of providing pre- legislative apparatus for the settlement and Conciliation of matters of Public utility services like the telegraph, postal, transport, etc. If in a matter of Permanent Lok Adalat if the parties could not reach a consensus, then it has also the jurisdiction to decide the matter but the matter must not be a criminal one. Permanent Lok Adalat has jurisdiction up to 10 lakhs. The ‘Award’ passed by the Permanent Lok Adalat is binding on parties and final.
3. Mobile Lok Adalat
In various parts of the country, Mobile Lok Adalats are organized by traveling from one place to another place for the speedy resolution of disputes.
Some advantages of Lok Adalats
- Due to the absence of any court fee, the litigants find it easy to approach the Lok Adalat. Even if the fee has been paid it will be refunded after the settlement of the matter at the Lok Adalat.
- Due to the absence of any strict rules of evidence and procedure the matters in the Lok Adalat get settled rapidly.
- Since the parties in a Lok Adalat can communicate to the presiding officer directly therefore there are more chances of a fair settlement.
- The matters can directly be brought before the Lok Adalats and there is no need to approach the court before doing so.
- Awards of Lok Adalats are binding on the parties and are final in nature which means there will be no appeal from the Award of the Lok Adalat as opposed to the generic legal system where several appeals cause a delay in the court process. The absence of appeal is due to the reason that it is the settlement arrived at by the parties mutually.
- Lok Adalats are an embodiment of inexpensive and faster remedies having a legal status on their face.
In my opinion, the concept of Lok Adalat is a boon for the judicial system giving it a boost in the disposal of the cases and relieving it from a huge amount of caseload.
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