Lok Adalat, a Hindi term meaning people’s court, is one of the most celebrated Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms.
But the fact remains that even after 15 years of its introduction through the Legal Services Authority Act 1987, it is still struggling to receive acceptance by a majority of the litigants who prefer long drawn litigation to settlement of disputes across the table.
Last year’s statistics of Lok Adalats conducted in the Madras High Court Bench here shows that out of 4,474 cases listed for hearing during the year; parties appeared only with respect to 1,202 cases. Though attendance at the Lok Adalat was low, the rate of disposal was high with a total of 759 cases resolved and compensation totalling Rs.25.93 crore settled in that year.
K. Arul, Member-Secretary, Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority (TNSLSA), said Lok Adalats did not receive much attention in the media and, therefore, public awareness was low. He said the Lok Adalat was one of the best forums to resolve disputes as the awards passed by it are final and not subject to appeal as per Section 21(2) of the LSA Act.
He pointed out that resolving disputes through Lok Adalat could bring monetary gain as court expenses could be claimed. Most of the cases that come before the Lok Adalats relate to accident claims and cheque bouncing. However, there was no bar on settling other cases as well, he pointed out.
S. Udayan, Registrar (Administration) of the High Court Bench, said that Justice Chitra Venkataraman, who is also the chairperson of TNSLSA, had ordered a mega Lok Adalat at the High Court Bench on March 16. The High Court held talks with various divisions of Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation as well as a number of insurance companies and identified 717 cases to be listed for hearing.
It is proposed to constitute seven benches, each comprising a retired district judge and two members (an advocate and a medical officer) to resolve disputes.
The court plans to increase the number of cases to be listed to about 1,000.
He said that any litigant who wants his case to be heard by the Lok Adalat could approach the High Court Registry.
The only catch in getting matters listed for hearing in Lok Adalats was that both the parties to a dispute must be ready to accept the conciliation process.
Advocate Veera Kathiravan said that Lok Adalats are the answer to reducing the backlog of cases in the courts.
“I would say that the success of Alternative Dispute Resoultion depends upon lawyers because it is we who should provide the right guidance to our clients. Clients might be egoistic but once we sense that a case could be best resolved through Lok Adalat, we should advise our clients to go for it rather than opt for protracted litigation in courts,” he added.