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A Round Table Justice Through Lok-Adalat (Peoples' Court)— A Vibrant-ADR-In India
by Justice Jitendra N. Bhatt*

Cite as : (2002) 1 SCC (Jour) 11

The emergence of alternative dispute resolution has been one of the most significant movements as a part of conflict management and judicial reform, and it has become a global necessity. Lawyers, law students, law-makers and law interpreters have started viewing disputes resolution in a different and divergent environmental light and with many more alternatives to the litigation. While ADR is, now, envisioned and ingrained in the conscience of the Bench and the Bar and is an integral segment of modern practice.

The Harvard Business School, also, a few years before added dispute resolution as a new course, as a part of its curriculum. The American Bar Association created a section of dispute resolution. In justice delivery system, ADR, is employed since the litigative journey in the court of law has become exorbitantly expensive, long time consuming, cumbersome, dilatory, complex and also stressful, on account of variety of reasons which may not be deeply probed in this subject at this stage. The necessity and utility of ADR is unquestionable. Since the enactment in 1990 of the Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA) in US, there has been tremendous growth in the creation of ADR programmes and their implementations.

Resolution of disputes is an essential characteristic for societal peace, amity, comity and harmony and easy access to justice. It is evident from the history that the function of resolving dispute has fallen upon the shoulders of the powerful ones. With the evolution of modern States and sophisticated legal mechanisms, the courts run on very formal processes and are presided over by trained adjudicators entrusted with the responsibilities of resolution of disputes on the part of the State. The processual formalisation of justice gave tremendous rise to consumption of time and high number of cases and resultant heavy amount of expenditure. Obviously, this led to a search for an alternative complementary and supplementary mechanism to the process of the traditional civil court for inexpensive, expeditious and less cumbersome and, also, less stressful resolution of disputes.

As such, ADR has been, a vital, and vociferous, vocal and vibrant part of our historical past. Undoubtedly, Lok Adalat (Peoples' Court) concept and philosophy is an innovative Indian contribution to the world jurisprudence. It has very deep and long roots not only in the recorded history but even in prehistorical era. It has been proved to be a very effective alternative to litigation. Lok Adalat is one of the fine and familiar fora which has been playing an important role in settlement of disputes. The system has received laurels from the parties involved in particular and the public and the legal functionaries, in general. It also helps in emergence of jurisprudence of peace in the larger interest of justice and wider sections of society.

This movement will be further strengthened with more and more government litigations and disputes by and against the Government going to Lok Adalat since the Government is the Largest litigant in this country. This olden but, now, legalised proven viripotent and vital mechanism of ADR, is covered by the statutory umbrella, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, which has given it, a legal sanction and made it more effective and enforceable in different States. Its process is voluntary and works on the principle that both parties to the disputes are willing to sort out their disputes by amicable solutions. Through this mechanism, disputes can be settled in a simpler, quicker and cost-effective way at all the three stages i.e. pre-litigation, pending-litigation and post-litigation.

The National Legal Services Authority constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, acts as the apex and nodal agency for laying down policies and principles for making legal services available under the Act. The ground level operations of "Lok Adalats" are handled by State-level, district-level and taluka-level agencies constituted in the respective States. Lok Adalat settlement is binding like an order, decree, judgment or award of a "court". It is executable and non-appealable. It brings an end only in one forum or stage and finality is achieved. It is proved inexpensive, easy, expeditious and simple ADR mechanism, particularly, for indigent, illiterate and ignorant sections of society.

There is considerable evidence that ADR was widely used in ancient India, Rome and Egypt for the settlement of varied disputes. ADR's growth has long been an integral part of world's landscape, reflecting a sense that system of justice based on technical rules and procedures and formal processes was inefficient, insufficient and incomplete response to the needs and expectations of mankind. The institution of Lok Adalat in India, as the very name suggests, means, People's Court. "Lok" stands for "people" and the vernacular meaning of the term "Adalat" is the court.

In this respect, traditional system of justice is not enough for the larger societal interest and for the people committed to peace and inquisitive of expeditious, inexpensive and less complex settlement of their disputes. Therefore, even the sacred texts of the major religions and also reflections of words of great philosophers and thinkers are pertinent and evident. Aristotle in Rhetoric and on Poetics said, "Arbitration was introduced to give equity its due weight". Cicero has also said that for a larger assessment of fairness processual justice many times would march over the substantive justice. He has also advocated the process of arbitration. Blackstone in his famous Commentaries on the Law of English has observed about the strict justice and formal rules on process and the requirement of adopting principles of process to deal with equities which matter in the controversy.

George Washington, the first President of the United States, borrowing from his experience as an arbitrator of private disputes in the 1770s, crafted it into his last will and testament:

"I hope and trust, that no disputes will arise concerning them; but if, contrary to expectations, of the usual technical terms, or because too much or too little has been said on any of the devices to be consonant with law, my will and direction expressly is, that all disputes (if unhappily any should arise) shall be decided by three impartial and intelligent men, known for their probity and understanding; two to be chosen by the disputants - each having a choice of one - and the third by those two. Which three men thus chosen, shall, unfettered by law, or legal constructions, declare their sense of the testators' intention; and such decision is, to all intents and purposes to be as binding on the parties as if it had been given in the Supreme Court of the United States."

Abraham Lincoln has observed:

"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbours to compromise wherever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser - in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."

Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation, has said:

"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 realised that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven as under. The lesson was so indelibly burnt unto me that the large part of my time, during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer, was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing, thereby not even money, certainly not my soul."

The common man has started looking upon legal system as a foe and not as a friend. For him, law is always taking something away. When we go to court, we know that we are going to win all or lose all. Whereas, when we go to any method of ADR or for informal settlement with different expectations, we know that we may not get all that we want, but we will not lose everything. In India, arbitration and domestic or in-house tribunals are alternatives to formal courts. However, tribunalisation of justice has yet not, successfully, clicked to prove its true mettle. Many a times, experience has shown that the tribunals often end up as dead cycles of litigative voyage in the courts and resultant lengthening of the life of dispute resolution process.

While we encourage ADR mechanism, we must, also, create a culture of settlement of disputes through such mechanisms. Various ADRM methods have been experimented and accepted as viable methods in different situations in different environments in different countries. The ancient concept of settlement of dispute through mediation, negotiation or through arbitral process known as "Peoples' Court verdict" or decision of "Nyaya-Panch" is conceptualized and institutionalized in the philosophy of Lok Adalat.

Some people equate Lok Adalat to conciliation or mediation, some treat it with negotiations and arbitration. Those who find it different from all these, call it "Peoples' Court". It involves people who are directly or indirectly affected by dispute resolution. It is, rightly, said participation, accommodation, fairness, expectation, voluntariness, neighbourliness, transparency, efficiency and lack of animosity are undoubtedly, all important characteristics of this unique Indian institution rooted in India's history and culture and environment.

The concept of Lok Adalat was pushed back into oblivion in last few centuries before independence and particularly during the British regime. Now, this concept has, once again, been rejuvenated. It has, once again, become very popular and familiar amongst litigants. The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, pursuant to the constitutional mandate in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India, contains various provisions for settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat. Thus, the ancient concept of Lok Adalat has, now, statutory basis. This is the system which has deep roots in Indian legal history and its close allegiance to the culture and perception of justice in Indian ethos.

This concept is, now, again very popular and is gaining historical momentum. Experience has shown that it is one of the very efficient and important ADRs and most suited to the Indian environment, culture and societal interests. The finest hour of justice is the hour of compromise when parties after burying their hatchet reunite by a reasonable and just compromise. This Indian-institutionalised, indigenised and now, legalized concept for settlement of dispute promotes the goals of our Constitution. Equal justice and free legal aid are hand in glove. It is, rightly said, since the second world war, the greatest revolution in the law has been the mechanism of evolution of system of legal aid which includes an ADRM. The statutory mechanism of legal services includes concept of Lok Adalat in the Legal Services Authorities Act. The legal aid, in fact, is a fundamental human right.

Indian socio-economic conditions warrant highly motivated and sensitised legal service programmes as large population of consumers of justice (heart of the judicial anatomy) are either poor or ignorant or illiterate or backward, and, as such, at a disadvantageous position. The State, therefore, has a duty to secure that the operation of legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. Alternative dispute resolution is, neatly, worked out in the concept of Lok Adalat. It has provided an important juristic technology and vital tool for easy and early settlement of disputes. It has again been proved to be a successful and viable national imperative and incumbency, best suited for the larger and higher sections of the present society and Indian system. The concept of legal services which includes Lok Adalat is a "revolutionary evolution of resolution of disputes".

The Gujarat State Legal Services Authority is in the forefront, in the whole of India, on road map of legal services and Lok Adalat and through this indigenous and hybrid mechanism and method, only in the last three years, more than 11,41,909 cases out of 12,50,214 cases dealt with of different types have been amicably settled to the satisfaction of parties only in Gujarat (as on 1-9-2001). The updated landscapes of progress and profile of works done by Gujarat State Legal Services Authority are highlighted in Tables A, B and C and that of Parliament Legal Aid Clinic, in Tables D and E, annexed herewith for ready reference.

I must state that mainly it is the outcome of: (1) Joint collaborative efforts of the Bench, the Bar, and the NGOs, (2) useful guidance and dynamic approach and leadership, help and assistance of NATIONAL LEGAL SERVICES AUTHORITY.

In every kind of civilisation, pursuit of justice is instinctive, it is, in fact, a basic and primordial instinct in every human being; it is an individual, as well as, societal instinct and every society strives or aspires to attain it through its legal system. The degree of perfection attained by legal system may be measured by the extent to which it exists in good instinct for justice system to express itself and to find its fulfilment. Not every legal system succeeds in this goal. Sometimes a legal system fails to achieve its purpose because of defects and deficiencies in its substantive laws and sometimes mainly because of its procedural rules' infirmities.

Law and system of justice are not like antiques to be taken down, dusted, admired and put back on the shelf, but they are rather like a vigorous tree which has its roots in history and takes on new graft, puts out new sprouts and occasionally drops dead wood. It is a dynamic instrument fashioned for the purpose of achieving ameliorative and harmonious adjustment, and settlement of disputes arising out of human relations by eliminating social tensions and conflicts and it must, therefore, change with changing socio-economic conditions.

Law and system should be stable, but not standstill. There is nothing permanent except "CHANGE". It is equally true nothing static would survive long. The duty of justice transcends all other considerations and is of paramount importance and overriding. Benzamin Cardozo, the great American Judge observed: "The inn that shelters for the night is not the journey's end. The law, like the traveller, must be ready for tomorrow."

The concept of Lok Adalat is no longer an experiment in India, but it is an effective and efficient, pioneering and palliative alternative mode of dispute settlement which is accepted as a viable, economic, efficient, informal, expeditious form of resolution of disputes. It is a hybrid or admixture of mediation, negotiation, arbitration and participation. The true basis of settlement of disputes by the Lok Adalat is the principle of mutual consent, voluntary acceptance of conciliation with the help of counsellors and conciliators. It is a participative, promising and potential ADRM. It revolves round the principle of creating awareness amongst the disputants to the effect that their welfare and interest, really, lies in arriving, at amicable, immediate, consensual and peaceful settlement of the disputes.

Let me conclude with a sound but an imperative caveat that we must be ever mindful that "Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose", and, therefore, let us get together, stand united, and strengthen our Bench and Bar irrevocable unique partnership and make collaborative, concerted, cooperative, creative, collective and cohesive endeavours in popularising, proliferating and pioneering, concept and philosophy of important institution - alternative dispute resolution mechanism - so as to strengthen our pluralistic democratic values, rule of law and thereby invigorate the commandment, "Justice shall never be rationed". Let us therefore make all efforts to advance and strengthen "equal access to justice", the heart of the Constitution of India, a reality.


Table A

Sl. No. Period Lok Adalats Lok Adalats for motor accident cases Legal Literacy Camps held
Held Cases dealt with Cases disposed of Held Cases dealt with Cases disposed of Compen-sation awarded (Rs in crores) Other Compen-
sation (Rs in
1. Mar 1992 to Dec 1997 1470 2,51,388 1,98,140 484 44,643 32,874 113.2 NIL 601
2. 1998 2529 3,15,157 2,96,713 254 12,801 10,488 67.66 NIL 7619
3. 1999 6580 2,45,900 2,11,179 273 14,270 10,952 55.2 NIL 30,385
4. 2000 4530 5,53,798 5,13,787 237 15,287 12,874 77.24 9.794 25,456
5. 2001 2807 1,35,359 1,20,230 80 3764 2904 23.26 73.213 6660
6. Total (1998 to 1-9-2001) 16,446 12,50,214 11,41,909 844 46,122 37,218 223.36 83.007 70,120
7. Grand Total (March 1992 to August 2001) 17,916 15,01,602 13,40,049 1328 90,765 70,092 336.56 83.007 70,721

Table B

Sl. No. Particulars Years
1998 1999 2000 2001 (till 30-6-01)
1. Number of Lok Adalats held 2529 6580 4530 2152
2. Per day Lok Adalat held 7 18 12 6
3. Expenditure (in Rs) towards Lok Adalat 4,41,791 7,18,569 4,41,487 1,49,947
4. Cost (in Rs) per Lok Adalat 174.69 109.00 92.61 68.25
5. Number of cases settled in Lok Adalat 3,07,201 2,11,179 5,13,787 87,264
6. Cost per case settled in Lok Adalat 0.69 3.40 0.83 1.69
7. Per day disposal of cases settled in Lok Adalat 842 578 1427 485
8. Total disposal of motor accident petitions 10,488 10,952 12,874 984
9. Total Amount (in Rs) awarded in MA petitions 67.66 95.20 77.24 8.80
10. Per day disposal in Lok Adalat for MA petitions 29 30 48 5
11. Legal Literacy Camps held 7619 30,385 25,456 5354
12. Per day Legal Literacy Camp held 21 83 71 30
13. Expenditure towards Legal Literacy Camps 1,04,212 3,27,868 2,32,328 58,112
14. Number of persons benefited through LL Camps 19,04,750 75,96,250 63,64,000 13,38,500
Males 12,36,034 52,23,300 40,09,320 8,29,870
Females 6,68,716 23,72,950 23,54,680 5,08,630
15. Cost per individual for Legal Literacy Camp (Rs) 0.05 0.04 0.03 0.05

Table C

Sl. No. Particulars 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 Up to
Grand Total
1. Pre-litigation cases settled   9751 11,766 4882 26,399
2. Execution petitions cases settled     3361 924 4285
3. Under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act  
Cases settled 206 373 1018 2106 3161 1554 8418
Compensation awarded (App. Rs in lakhs) 6.33 1.20 35.56 45.91 814.55 157.18 1060.73


Table D

As on 31-8-2001

Sl. No. Particulars 1999 2000 2001 Grand Total
1 Cases received in Permanent Legal-Aid Clinic 881 3462 10,878* 15,221*
2 Cases settled in Permanent Legal-Aid Clinic 881 3076 1756 5713
3. Para-legal training camps organized 55 7 62

* Includes 8031 cases relating to M/s Golden Forests Ltd.

Table E

Categorywise details of consultants visiting permanent legal-aid clinic:

Sl. No. Category Number
1. Retired High Court Judges 7
2. Retired Judges of Subordinate Courts 2
3. Retired Government Officers 5
4. Serving Judicial Officers 7
5. Advocates 40
6. Social Workers 3
Total 64

*   Judge, High Court of Gujarat, and, Executive Chairman, Gujarat State Legal Services Authority, Ahmedabad. Return to Text

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