Disputes are inevitable especially in business sector. It is difficult to imagine a human society without conflict of interests. The disputes must be resolved at minimum possible cost both in terms of money and time. That spares more time and more resources for constructive pursuits. The prevailing legal system is taking much time and money in disposal of a suit. Even many of the plaintiffs/defendants died while the suit is pending. According to an official report of the year 2000, there is a pendency of two crore cases in District Courts. On its part, the Centre was prepared to sanction Rs.202.27 crore for settling up 1734 fast track courts. Hence choosing an alternative to the conventional court system is very much required. The Government has established many numbers of quasi-judicial and administrative tribunals in a way an alternative method of dispute redressals. But even such tribunals and forums have become overcrowded with the result that they are not able to provide relief within good time. Alternative dispute Resolution is an attempt to devise machinery which should be capable of providing an alternative to the conventional methods of resolving disputes.
The movement towards Alternative Dispute Resolution was endorsed by a resolution at a meeting of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices held on 4.12.1993. The meeting noted that the courts were not in a position to undertake the entire burden of administration of justice and that a number of disputes were capable of being disposed of by alternative methods such as arbitration, conciliation, mediation and negotiations. It was further emphasized that litigants should be encouraged to adopt other methods because they provided procedural flexibility, saved valuable time and involved less expenditure and strain as compared with conventional trials in civil courts.
The above said movement was recognized and supported by the Parliament. The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 brought about the establishment of the Lok Adalat system for settlement of disputes cheaply and expeditiously and also in the spirit of compromise by give and take formula.
It is now obligatory for the court to refer the dispute after issues are framed for settlement with the concurrence of the parties either by way of-
>>> Judicial settlement including settlement through Lok Adalat, or
Section 30 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 encourages arbitrators to use the mediation, conciliation or other procedures at any time during the arbitration proceedings with the agreement of the parties to encourage settlement.
The term 'Lok Adalat' means a people's court. Lok Adalat in stricter sense is not a court of law. It is defined as a forum where voluntary effort aimed at bringing about settlement of disputes between the parties is made through conciliatory and pervasive efforts. The State Legal Aid and Advisory Boards or District Legal Aid Committees organize Lok Adalats. 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. The number of members is to be determined by the organizing authority. Likewise the qualification and experience required for the members have to be prescribed where the Lok Adalat is organized by the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. In other cases, it has to be done by the State Governments in consultation with the Chief Justices of the High Courts. The following are the various types of Lok Adalats:
>>> Mutation of land cases;
>>> Compoundable criminal offences;
>>> Encroachment on forest lands;
>>> Family disputes;
>>> Land acquisition disputes;
>>> Motor accident claims; and
>>> Cases which are not sub-judice.
The jurisdiction of Lok Adalats is to determine and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in cases pending before any court or any matter, which falls within the jurisdiction of the courts but has not been brought before them. They are not to have jurisdiction for the maters relating to an offence, which is not Compoundable under any law.
POWERS OF LOK ADALAT:
The Lok Adalat shall have the powers of a Civil Court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) while trying a suit in respect of the following matters:
>>> The summoning and enforcing the attendance of any witness and examining him on oath;
>>> The discovery and production of any document;
>>> The reception of evidence on affidavits;
>>> The requisitioning of any public record or document or copy of such record or document from any court or office; and
>>> Such other matters as may be prescribed.
Without prejudice to the generality of the powers the Lok Adalat shall have the requisite powers to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it. All proceedings before the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sec. 193, 219 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 180\60) and every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a civil court for the purpose of Section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974).
OTHER FORMS OF LOK ADALAT:
The other forms of Lok Adalat are-
>>> Mini Lok Adalats - These are at sub district level and in villages functioning in rural areas to cater to rural and tribal people;
>>> Village Courts - These are units of self-government. They are like village panchayats.
>>> Mediation Centers - These 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.
SETTLEMENT BEFORE LOK ADALAT:
The Lok Adalats are generally organized in the premises of courts. The Secretarial expenses are born by the States allocating grants to Legal Aid authorities. Settlements have an eye mainly on-
>>> Social goals like ending quarrels;
>>> Restoring family peace;
>>> Providing succor for destitute.
The parties thereof agree or one of the parties thereof makes an application to the court for referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement. The court if it is satisfied that there are chances for settlement or if 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 Lok Adalat after giving reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
The Authority or Committee organizing the Lok Adalat on receipt of application from any of the parties refers such matter to the Lok Adalat for determination. The Lok Adalat shall act with utmost expedition to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties. The principles of justice, equity, fair play and other legal principles shall guide the Lok Adalat.
The award passed by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute. No appeal shall lie to any court against the award of Lok Adalat. The award is deemed to be a decree of a civil court. 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. The court shall proceed to deal with such case from the stage, which was reached before such reference.
Where the case was pending before the court so that the court fee had already been paid and then it was resolved through the Lok Adalat, the court fee would be refunded to the party in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870.
RBI FAVOURS LOK ADALAT:
Banks may no longer be able to resort to strong-arm techniques for loan recovery. The draft guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India suggest that banks should use the forum of Lok Adalat for the recovery of personal loans, credit card loans or housing loans of less than Rs.10 lakh.
Lok Adalat is the system which is alternative to the existing court proceedings which saves time, money. It can accept only such cases as come within their competence and capability for disposal. The Lok Adalat is mainly used to settle the disputes relating to matrimonial disputes, right to maintenance, revenue disputes, consolidation of holdings, electricity billing disputes, motor accident cases. The Land acquisition cases may be settled through Lok Adalat. Likewise labor disputes may be referred to Lok Adalat. Lok Adalat would be a better forum even in some serious disciplinary matters.
About the Author: -
Mr. M. GOVINDARAJAN
55 RAJARAM STREET, JAWAHAR NAGAR, TIRUMANGALAM - 625 706