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Performance Analysis of Lok Adalats in India

Synopsis:

The Lok Adalats (People’s Court) have been functioning in India since the last 38 years. They have successfully solved lakhs of cases that have reduced the judicial burden. However, some experts question their efficacy as they tend to neglect justice for speedier resolution. 

Background:
  • Lok Adalats established to provide quick, accessible and affordable justice to masses. This prevents delay in justice delivery as justice delayed is justice denied.
  • It is a type of Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanism outside the formal judicial process.

History of Lok Adalats:

  • Harivallabh Parikh (a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi) in Rangpur, Gujarat in 1949, popularised it.
  • Later on, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 passed by Parliament to achieve the constitutional mandate of Article 39A. The article aims to ensure equal justice and free legal aid for everyone.
  • The act aimed to
    • Provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society
    • Organise Lok Adalats that would give people an equal opportunity to seek justice.
Why do people go to Lok Adalats?
  • Firstly, Huge Pendency in Formal Judicial System: As per National Judicial Data Grid there exists enormous pendencies in the formal judicial setup. 
    • More than 3 crore cases are pending in district and subordinate courts, over 57 lakhs in high courts and above 66000 in supreme court.
    • As per a rough estimation, it will take around 320 years to settle the existing backlog.
  • Secondly, Greater Control: As it is a party-driven process, it encourages parties to reach an amicable settlement.
  • Thirdly, Speed: Sometimes lakhs of cases are disposed in a single day which is not possible even in other Alternate mechanisms like arbitration, conciliation etc.
  • Fourthly, Flexibility: Lok adalat is not bound by procedural laws like the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, or the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Fifthly, Affordability: No fees are charged from parties by the Lok Adalat.
  • Sixthly, Finality of Awards: The award of Lok Adalat is like a civil court’s decree but can’t be appealed in the formal courts. Hence, cases are not dragged on for years and speedier settlement takes place.
Performance:
  • They are regularly organised to help parties reach a compromise. Core Subject matters of Lok Adalats include motor-accident claims, disputes related to public-utility services, cases related to dishonour of cheques etc.
  • As per the estimates of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) – State Adalats disposed of around 52 lakh cases between 2016-20. 
  • Similarly, the (National Lok Adalats) NLAs have disposed of a total of 2.93 crore cases in the same period. 
  • E-Lok Adalats were organized at both the national and State level to overcome the pandemic challenge. The first national e-Lok Adalat disposed of around 10.5 lakh cases.
Issues:
  • A fall in performance is witnessed since 2017. NLAs now cover a variety of subjects while earlier they were subject matter-specific. The average cases settled by NLAs in 2015 were around 18 lakhs. It has now reduced to 13.3 lakhs in 2019 as per NALSA’s data.
  • Similarly, the efficiency of E-Lok adalats is not at par with physical Lok adalats.
  • It is conciliatory in nature. Therefore, it is alleged that justice is sometimes undermined to do speedy disposal as conciliation doesn’t always lead to justice delivery.
  • Unequal bargaining power exists between the parties. Strong parties like insurance companies, electricity boards etc. can easily put pressure on a poor person to accept discriminatory awards.
Way Forward:
  • The Lok Adalats must look beyond swift disposal of cases and focus on just and fair outcomes as justice hurried is justice buried. 
  • There is a need to take some concrete and innovative steps by the legislature or the judiciary to improve the quality of justice rendered by Adalats. 

Revamping of Lok adalat along with initiation of phase 3 of e- courts project can be a game changer in improving the efficiency of the dispute settlement.

Source: The Hindu

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