Alternative dispute resolution benefits many women

For the last seven years, 72-year-old R. Komalavalli has been running from pillar to post to retrieve her ration card from the police after they confiscated it, and to receive her old age pension from the State Government.

Her son R. Sundarajan died in a road accident in 2006, reportedly involving a police vehicle.

The death of their only son affected her husband’s mental health.

Life has been stressful for Komalavalli. And as a last resort, she knocked on the doors of the Madurai Legal Aid Authority for help.

“My son was 27 at the time of his death. After his death, the police visited our house and took away a few documents, including the ration card. I am not able to buy essential commodities. I am declared by officials as not eligible for old age pension because I don’t have a ration card”, she told a panel of advocates. It was her first sitting at the Madurai District Legal Services Authority on Tuesday. An advocate was assigned for Mrs. Komalavalli and a fresh representation was drafted to be forwarded to the officials concerned through the secretary of the Legal Services Authority (LSA). The mediation and conciliation hall at the Legal Services Authority building within the District Court Complex has around 20 to 25 visitors every day. Civil disputes, criminal cases, family conflicts, matrimonial discord and monetary claims come up for redressal every day.

Alternative dispute resolution, a mediation method adopted by the legal aid authority, is proving efficacious in providing legal aid to the economically weak and the disadvantaged. “In a few cases, there are prisoners who are unable to file bail petitions because they are unable to afford them. In such cases, we employ advocates to file bail and secure their release. The ADR method saves time and expenditure”, said S. Murugan, an advocate in the Legal Services Authority‘s panel for mediation.

“We settle about five cases a day amicably. When the talks between both the parties fail, we employ advocates free of cost to pursue the case for those who cannot afford the legal fees. Most beneficiaries are women”, said N. Muthulaksham, another advocate on the panel.

“On an average, 1000 cases are taken up every year and the number is gradually increasing thanks to the legal awareness camps conducted across the district,” he points out. Anybody seeking legal aid can visit the LSA. Each litigant is referred to an advocate, who then issues summons to the opposite party after hearing the case. There are around 140 advocates on the panel who take turns to handle the cases.

Unlike the courts, the Legal Services Authority does not have the authority to take legal actions against those who do not appear when summoned. But few summons go unanswered, LSA officials say.

According to them, the government officials and insurance companies show a keen interest in settling disputes through mediation. The LSA has 20 centres in Madurai district, including the one at the Government Rajaji Hospital. The secretary of Tamil Nadu LSA, Jacintha Martin, has announced that LSA centres will also be set up soon in the offices of the Superintendent of Police, Commissioner of Police and the Collector.

Encouraged by the success of ADR, the High Court also favours settlement of disputes through mediation.

The Legal Aid Centre at the Madras High Court Bench here helps in mediation and conciliation, but only in those cases referred to it by the judges.

The Lok Adalats adopted by the High Court help clear the backlog of cases. Five mega lok adalats and monthly lok adalats are held at the High Court Bench each year to reduce the burden of unresolved litigation.

More In: Madurai