Introduction Conflicts as well as disputes are inevitable, unavoidable and endemic in social, political, economic, religious and industrial society. It is hard to imagine a human society without a conflict of interest. Disputes must be resolved amicably and peacefully between the parties. In reality the court procedure is very complex and expensive. Alternative dispute resolution is an attempt to devise machinery which should be capable of providing an alternative to the conventional methods of resolving disputes.
Lok Adalat is one of the alternative dispute redressal mechanisms. Originating from Gandhian principles by Mahatma Gandhi, it has become a major helping hand to courts. It is a forum where disputes/cases pending in the court of law or at pre-litigation stage are settled or compromised amicably. Lok Adalats have been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Under the said act, the award made by the Lok Adalat is deemed to be a decree of civil courts and is final and binding on all parties.
Lok Adalat, as the name suggests, means ‘People’s Court’, Lok stands for people and Adalat stands for court. It has developed from the practice of the panchayat system where disputes were settled by the council which facilitated conversations between parties to allow them to negotiate an agreement.
Nature and Scope
Lok Adalat in stricter sense is not a court of law. It is neither a Bench Court nor a statutory tribunal meant to adjudicate or arbitrate. It appears to be a unique institution meant to take care of disputes as they arise between members of any section of society. The basic philosophy behind Lok Adalat is to bring about settlement of disputes between the parties through conciliatory and persuasive efforts. This method proves to be more effective, less time consuming and prominent method for dispute settlements.
The High Court of Andhra Pradesh held that, in Board of Trustee of the Visakhapatnam v Presiding Officer, Permanent, Lok Adalat’ The award is enforceable as a decree and it is final. The endeavors are only to see that the disputes are narrowed down and make the final settlement so that the parties are not again driven into further litigation or any dispute.
If the parties are not satisfied with the award of the Lok Adalat though there is no provision for an appeal against such an award, but they are free to initiate litigation by approaching the court of appropriate jurisdiction by filing a case by following the required procedure, in exercise of their right to litigate. There is no court fee payable when a matter is files in a Lok Adalat. If a matter pending in the court of law is referred to the Lok Adalat and is settled subsequently, the court fee originally paid in the court on the complaints/petition is also refund back to the parties. The State Legal Aid and Advisory Boards or District Legal Aid Committee does organize Lok Adalat. The members of the Lok Adalat are called as ‘Conciliators’. The members may be drawn from serving or retired judicial officers or from other fields of life.
Following are the types of cases at Lok Adalat:
1. Mutation of land cases
2. Compoundable criminal offences
3. Family Disputes
4. Encroachment on forest lands
5. Land acquisition disputes
6. Motor accident claim, and
7. Cases which are not sub-judice
Organization of Lok Adalat (Section 19) 1. Every State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or, as the case may be, Taluk Legal Services Committee may organize LokAdalat at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit.
2. Every Lok Adalat organized for an area shall consist of such number of –
A. Serving or retired judicial officers; and
B. Other persons of the area as may be specified by the State Authority or the District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or the High Court Legal Services Committee, or as the case may be, the Taluk Legal Services Committee, organizing such LokAdalats.
3. The experience and qualifications of other persons referred to in clause (b) of sub-section (2) for Lok Adalat organized by the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.
4. The experience and qualifications of other persons referred to in clause (b) of sub-section (2) for Lok Adalat other than referred to in sub-section (3) shall be such as may be prescribed by the State Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court.
5. A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of -
Ø Any case pending before; or
Ø Any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organized.
Provided that the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any case or matter relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.
Cognizance of cases by Lok Adalat (Section 20)
(1) Where in any case referred to in clause (i) of sub-section (5) of Section 19
(a)The parties thereof agree; or (b) One of the parties thereof makes an application to the court for referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement and if such court is prima facie satisfied that there are chances of such settlement; or (c) The court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat, the court shall refer the case to the Lok Adalat; Provided that no case shall be referred to the Lok Adalat under sub-clause (b) of clause ( i) or clause (ii) by such court except after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
2) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the Authority or Committee organizing the Lok Adalat under sub-section (1) of Section 19 may, on receipt of an application from any, one of the parties to any matter referred to in clause (ii) of sub-section (5) of Section 19 that such matter needs to be determined by a Lok Adalat, refer such matter to the Lok Adalat, for determination; Provided that no matter shall be referred to the Lok Adalat except after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the other party.
(3) Where any case is referred to a Lok Adalat under sub-section (1) or where a reference has been made to it under sub-section (2), the Lok Adalat shall proceed to dispose of the case or matter and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties.
(4) Every Lok Adalat shall, while determining any reference before it under this Act, act with utmost expedition to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties and shall be guided by the principles of Justice, equity, fair play and other legal principles.
(5) Where no award is made by the Lok Adalat on the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties, the record of the case shall be returned by it to the court, from which the reference has been received under sub-section (1) for disposal in accordance with law.
(6) Where no award is made by the Lok Adalat on the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties, in a matter referred to in sub-section (2), that Lok Adalat shall advice the parties to seek remedy in a court.
(7) Where the record of the case is returned under sub-section (5) to the court, such court shall proceed to deal such reference under sub-section (1).
Award of Lok Adalat (Section 21)
(1) Every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or, as the case may be, an order of any other court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at, by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to under sub-section (1) of Section 20, the court-fee paid in such case shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870 (7 of 1870).
(2) Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.
Other forms of Lok Adalat:
· Mini Lok Adalat- These are at sub-district level and in villages functioning in rural areas to cater to the rural and tribal people
· Village Courts- These are units of self-government. They are like village panchayats.
· Mediation centers- There mediating centers were started in the year 1983, in Tamil Nadu, in rural areas under the Tamil Nadu Legal Aid and Advice Boards.
· Centre for women- These are for giving a special status to women and their exclusive problems. Their role is to deal with matrimonial problems and to help in settling disputes involving women.
Advantages and importance of Lok Adalat
The reason behind the efficiency of Lok Adalat is based on several advantages which it holds over normal courts of law. These factors are responsible for its quick disposal of several disputes. Lok Adalat has many advantages which are listed below-
· There exist considerable procedural flexibility as major procedural laws such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 or the Indian Evidence Act, 1882 are not strictly enforced. The parties can interact directly through their counsels which is not possible in a regular court of law. This dynamic nature of Lok Adalat allows them to conciliate both party interests and pass awards which are acceptable to both parties.
· There is no need to deposit court fees in Lok Adalat proceeding. On the other hand, the court always charges heavy fees as per the litigation and nature of case. If the parties already deposited the fees, the fees will be refunded after referring the dispute to Lok Adalat
· There is no question of appeal against the decision of Lok Adalat, whereas in regular court three appeals are allowed which leads to delay and expense to the parties. Due to the mutual settlement between the parties no appeal lies against the decision of Lok Adalat.
Conclusion Lok Adalats have become a prominent part of the Indian legal system and have become apertures for bridging the gap to legal aid. The concept of Lok Adalat stands as a unique contribution of the Indian legal system to world legal jurisprudence. It is an informal system of justice dispensation which has largely succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to litigants for determination and settlement of disputes. Disputes like partition suits, money claims, matrimonial issues can be easily settled before Lok Adalat.
Lok Adalat Movement is no more an experiment in India. If properly, thoughtfully and wisely constituted, Lok Adalat’s can become an additional arm of existing judicial institution and moreover, if the process of accumulation of arrears is reversed and there is less burdening, its qualitative performance can improve.
I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties.... The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromise of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby - not even money, certainly not my soul.
 2000(5) ALT 577
 The legal service authorities Act, 1987