Report No. 222
1.11 The Lok Adalats, Nyaya Panchayats, Legal Services Authorities are also part of the campaign to take justice to the people and ensure that all people have equal access to justice in spite of various barriers, like social and economic backwardness.
1.12 The Judiciary is playing a significant role in providing justice to the under-privileged, indigent and helpless individuals through public interest litigation. The legal aid network is taking firm roots and legal services functionaries are actively engaged in fulfilling the constitutional promise of equality before the law. The provision of legal aid to eligible persons, the speedy settlement of their legal disputes by counselling and conciliation and failing that by Lok Adalats rank high on the agenda of legal services functionaries, as high as running legal education awareness programmes.
Of course, we have miles to go before we can claim that the realm of equal justice for all has become a reality. Dr. A. S. Anand, a former Chief Justice of India, has wished that the next century would not be a century of litigation, but a century of negotiation, conciliation and arbitration. This dream has to be fulfilled for settling disputes both pending in courts as well as at pre-litigative stage.
Where there is a huge pendency of cases, the only panacea is establishment of more and more permanent Lok Adalats where the expertise of the judicial officers both in service and retired could be effectively utilized in resolution of matters by conciliation. A large number of consumers in our country feel handicapped in getting justice due to poverty, illiteracy, social backwardness and also geographical barriers.
1.13 Earlier, in India, disputes were settled by a council of village elders, known as a Panchayat. This was an accepted method of conflict resolution. Since the Vedic times, India has been heralded as a pioneer in the achievement of the social goal of speedy and effective justice through informal but culminating resolution systems. ADR methods are not new to India and have been in existence in some form or the other in the days before the modern justice delivery system was introduced by the colonial British rulers.
There were various types of arbitral bodies., which led to the emergence of the celebrated Panchayati Raj system in India, especially in the rural locales. The decisions of the Panchayat were accepted and treated as binding. In 1982, in Junagarh in the State of Gujarat, a forum for Alternative Dispute Resolution was created in the form of Lok Adalat (People's Court).
Keeping in view the usefulness of Lok Adalats, the Government of India also set up in 1980 a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. P. N. Bhagwati, a former Chief Justice of India, and later, the Parliament enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 in view of the mandate of article 39A of the Constitution. The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 implemented in its true spirit has created popularity for and utility of Lok Adalats for speedy resolution of disputes.
1.14 The philosophy behind setting up of permanent and continuous Lok Adalats is that in our country, the litigant public has not so far been provided any statutory forum for counselling and as such, these Lok Adalats may take upon themselves the role of counsellors as well as conciliators. Experiment of Lok Adalat as an ADR mode has come to be accepted in India as a viable, economic, efficient and informal one. The provisions relating to Lok Adalat are contained in sections 19 to 22 of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987.
1.15 Section 22B of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, as amended in 2002, enables establishment of permanent Lok Adalats and its sub-section (1) reads as follows:
"Notwithstanding anything contained in section 19, the Central Authority or, as the case may be, every State Authority shall, by notification, establish Permanent Lok Adalats at such places and for exercising such jurisdiction in respect of one or more public utility services and for such areas as may be specified in the notification."
1.16 Permanent and continuous Lok Adalats established in every District Court's Complex provide a statutory forum to the litigants where they may go themselves before litigation and courts may also refer to them, pending cases, for counselling and conciliation. These permanent and continuous Lok Adalats would certainly be in a better position to try conciliatory settlements in more complicated cases arising out of matrimonial, landlordtenant, property and commercial disputes, etc., where repeated sittings are required for persuading and motivating the parties to settle their disputes in an atmosphere of give and take.
1.17 The disposal of legal disputes at pre-litigative stage by the permanent and continuous Lok Adalats provides expense-free justice to the citizens of this country. It also saves courts from additional and avoidable burden of petty cases, enabling them to divert their court-time to more contentious and old matters.
1.18 The philosophy of permanent and continuous Lok Adalats sprouts from the seeds of compassion and concern for the poor and downtrodden in the country and deserves support from all of us to make it grow as a tree giving fruit, fragrance and shade to all.
1.19 The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill preceding the Legal services Authorities (Amendment) Act 2002 points out that the system of Lok Adalat, which is an innovative mechanism for alternate dispute resolution, has proved effective for resolving disputes in a spirit of conciliation outside the courts.
1.20 The Delhi Legal Services Authority has set up 9 permanent Lok Adalats in Government bodies/departments and 7 MACT permanent Lok Adalats have been functioning regularly in Delhi.1 Similarly, permanent Lok Adalats have also been set up in some other States. But, there is a need to establish more permanent Lok Adalats throughout the country.
1. http://dlsa.nic.in/lokiadala.html.visited 14-14-2009.
1.21 We firmly believe that the legal literacy and legal awareness are the principal means to achieve the objective of equality before the law for the citizens of our country. All efforts should be made to achieve the object of the Legal services Authorities Act and make the legal aid programmes meaningful and purposeful.
1.22 Legal aid without legal literacy is less meaningful and purposeful. So, it would be highly useful if some important legal topics are included as compulsory subjects from primary education stage itself. Such legal education would enable the people to settle several of their disputes outside the courts at the grass roots level without seeking help from legal experts who are generally expensive.
1.23 It is high time that fora for the poor and needy people for redressal of their grievances speedily are created. As we all know, delay in disposal of cases in law courts, for whatever reason it may be, has really defeated the purpose for which the people approach the courts for redressal. It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. So, we will have to find out a via media to render social justice to the poor and needy who want their grievances redressed through law courts.
1.24 It is heartening to note that the Parliament has very recently enacted the Gram Nyayalayas Act 2008. Justice to the poor at their doorstep as the common man's dream is sought to be achieved through the setting up of Gram Nyayalayas which will travel from place to place to bring to the people of rural areas speedy, affordable and substantial justice.