Lok Adalat, as the word suggests, is indeed a people’s court. A reincarnation of a much older version of dispute settlement mechanism, the ‘Nyaya Panchayat’. The main philosophy behind Lok Adalat is the direct involvement of the parties to the dispute. The time taken at Lok Adalats for the settlement of a case is much less compared to regular courts.
A lot of customers reach out to us at Akosha complaining about receiving Lok Adalat notices from telecom or utilities companies for invoices alleged not paid by them. So when recently our reader Smita Sharma (name changed) sent a panicky mail to us at Akosha asking for our advice on a Lok Adalat summons notice received by her, we decided to dig further. Here are our findings.
How is Lok Adalat different from Regular Courts?
The main difference is the dispute settlement mechanism used. We all know that regular courts use the adversarial litigation procedure (i.e. one party going after the other).
Lok Adalat, on the other hand, uses a procedure called conciliation. In a conciliation process, a settlement is reached through mutual agreement i.e. both the parties to the dipute agree to a decision. Conciliation is a much simpler process when compared to litigation because unlike litigation the parties can directly interact with the Judge or the Adjudicator. It is not compulsory to have a lawyer. You can personally appear before the Lok Adalat – and a lot of people do that. So there is no need to be scared of the notice.
Of course there are other differences like, where the regular court will have only judicial officers in its benches, a Lok Adalat bench may consist of Serving or retired Judicial officers, eminent advocates, social workers etc.
Types of Lok Adalats
Advocate Thomas Geevarghese (Twitter: @advptg), a lawyer practicing in Ernakulam, Kerala, and a friend of Akosha, gave us some more practical gyan on this.
There are two types of Lok Adalats
- Regular Lok Adalat: The cases to the regular Lok Adalats are transferred from normal courts. The parties to a dispute can apply to the court for transferring their case to a Lok Adalat.
- Permanent Lok Adalat: According to the Legal Service Authority Act, a permanent Lok Adalat can only deal with Public Utility related disputes. Cases to the permanent Lok Adalats are brought in directly by the parties to the issue. Its jurisdiction is limited to matters in which the value of the property in dispute is less than 10 lakhs. Any party to a dispute can apply to a Permanent Lok Adalat for the settlement of the issue. An award passed by a Permanent Lok Adalat has the value of the judgment of a civil court and is legally binding. Once its jurisdiction is invoked by a party, no other Court or authority can exercise jurisdiction over the matter. However if the Adalat for any reason refuses to decide the case on merit, the party is free to approach appropriate Forum or Court.
How does an issue reach the Lok Adalat?
There are two ways in which a case can reach Lok Adalat. First of which is referral from regular courts. If the parties in a case feel that the case could be better decided in a Lok Adalat, they can apply to the court for transferring their case to a Lok Adalat. This application can be made by either of the parties or both. If the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be transferred, it may do so. Also the court may, after hearing both the parties, transfer the case, even without the parties applying. In this case if the Lok Adalat is not able to settle the issue, the issue will be returned to the court where it came from.
The second would be direct application by the parties. This is called a permanent Lok Adalat. If you are a party to a dispute and don’t want to go for litigation, apply to the permanent Lok Adalat. The Lok Adalat, if the issue comes under its jurisdiction, may ask you and the opposite party to file a written statement stating all the facts and also to attach all relevant documents along with it. A day will be fixed and both the parties will be summoned to the Adalat on that day for the hearing.
If the parties come to a mutually agreed settlement, the Lok Adalat will pass the settlement as an order giving it binding nature. Such an order of the Lok Adalat is NOT appealable. If you are not satisfied by the proposed solution, then think carefully before agreeing to it. Once you agree and Lok Adalat orders it, there is no going back.
If, however, the parties are not able to arrive at a mutually agreed settlement, they have two options:
a) They can both ask the Lok Adalat to decide the case on its merits. Remember – the order passed by the Lok Adalat will be final and binding. No appeals are allowed against the decision or Order of a Lok Adalat.To avoid parties from back tracking, Indian judiciary through its various judgments has suggested that the Lok Adalat, should get written approval from both the parties to decide a case on merits. (See Gajanand Prasad Keshri vs The State Of Jharkhand and Branch Manager, Tata Aig General vs Mrs. Bandana Devi) OR
b) Do not allow the Lok Adalat to decide the case on its merits and decide to approach a civil court to decide the cases. This way they would have the usual appeals available to them, though the case would take much longer to be decided.
So what should I do if I get a Lok Adalat notice?
Here are 5 quick tips for you:
- There is absolutely no need to panic. It seems scary to get a court notice, but think of it more as a chance to reach a settlement.
- Go to the Lok Adalat on the said date, personally or send a lawyer.
- Talk directly to the chairman and the bench members.
- Present your case, explaining the full details of the case.
- Try to reach a compromise with the opposite party.
If you feel that you are not being given a fair hearing on the matter, you should consult a lawyer.
There is no court fee for Lok Adalat. It’s absolutely free.
Thanks a lot to Peter Adam, an intern at Akosha and a NUJS Kolkatta student for the research and draft behind this article. Thomas, the lawyer mentioned in the article, blogs at labourlawkerala.wordpress.com; shoutboxkerala.wordpress.com and thomasgee.wordpress.com. Do check his blogs out.
Here is what a typical Lok Adalat notice looks like (especially for unpaid bills etc.):
Text of the notice received by Smita
BEFORE THE PERMANENT LOK ADALAT, BANGALORE
PLA Petition No. 5372 of 2011
WHEREAS M/s. Reliance Communications Infrastructures Ltd. Represented by Mr. Yavaraj N, No. 12/2 `Subrahmanya Arcade’ Tower `B’ 2ND Floor Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore-560029. Has instituted a petition against you for the recovery of Rs. 11084.6 against
A/C No. 2346818084 : Rim No. 9343918024
(a)Outstanding Bill Amount : Rs. 10080.6
(b)Interest Accrued : Rs. 504
(c)Cost and other charges/expense : Rs. 500.00
Total : Rs. 11084.6
And you are hereby summoned to appear before Permanent Lok Adalat, Bangalore, at “Nyaya Degula”, 1st Floor, S. Siddaiyah Road, Bangalore-560027, in person or by a pleader duly instructed and able to answer all material questions relating to the petition, or who shall be accompanied by some person able to answer all the questions on the 26th day of February, 11-00am to 1-30pm to answer the claim; and as the day fixed for your appearance is appointed for the final disposal of the petition, you must be prepared to produce on that day all the documents and other materials upon which you intend to rely in support your defense.
Take notice that in default of your appearance on the day before mentioned, the petition will be heard and determined in your absence.
Given under my hand and seal of the permanent Lok Adalat, Day 10th of February 2010
NO. 109 1ST FLOOR ********
BANNER GHATA ROAD
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