Role of Lok Adalats

Hon'ble Mr. Justice B.L. Loomba,

Former Judge, High Court, Allahabad

I speak for the common man in his need, and quest for justice. He is the man in ordinary life, man in the ordinary circumstances, not the rich man, not the industrialist, not the affluent trader or professional, not even a high official in the government, public or private sector, but the ordinary man in the town, city or village. He belongs to the poor and lower strata of the society. He has no means and capacity, whatsoever, to indulge in, or defend, any litigation in the courts but human nature as it is, he gets inescapably involved in litigation, civil or criminal and once involved he must pursue and contest it to its logical end even while rendering himself to the state of helplessness and bankruptcy. At times he has to pursue and contest the litigation inherited from his elders.

2. As a village folk, he is concerned with the adjudication of his rights and claims in the cultivatory land, its crops, house site or a part thereof, matrimonial disputes, compensatory claims for the land acquired or for the motor accident suffered and other small civil disputes and criminal cases. And as a man from the town/city, he is also before the court as a landlord or tenant, partner of a firm and to contest proceedings relating to breach of Industrial/Labour laws and various other regulatory measures. As a service man he is concerned with service matters relating to his appointment, promotion, seniority, disciplinary proceedings and pensionary benefits etc.

3. Our judicial system is highly expensive and depressingly slow and as the saying goes, in court litigation, “the victor is really the vanquished and the vanquished is actually dead.” The litigants, and, specially the poor, rightfully claim speedy and cheap justice.

4. Problem of delays and expensive litigation has engaged the attention and consideration of several legal luminaries of the country, those connected with the management of the judicial system and of various committees and commissions appointed for the purpose. Law Commission of India in its various reports, particularly the 14th, 27th  41st , 54th, 77th and 79th reports, have considered this problem in all its facets and have suggested some remedial measures. Not that no action has been taken in this regard: some procedural changes have been made and other improvements in the working of the system have also been introduced. Alternative forums like the Service Tribunals, Motor Accident Compensation Claims Tribunals, Railways Tribunals, Consumers Forums and several others have been created to ensure speedier disposal of specified categories of litigation and to reduce the workload in the courts. However, ground reality, as it obviously is, is that disposal is not keeping pace with the rate of institution and arrears are steadily growing in all the categories of courts. The sufferer in the process is the common man who has hardly an enduring and staying capacity as against the stronger and more powerful adversary. The common man is unequal in terms of resources and his position is worsening with the time.

5. Let us consider the position in the home State – a country by itself with population around 15 Crores, about 80% of them being backward, poor, ignorant and exploited.

In the beginning of 1980, the pendency of criminal cases in the magisterial courts of the State was 6,60,815. After ten years, (begining of 1990) the pendency reached 12,43,799. The pendency of Sessions cases during the same period rose from 31,562 to 83,726. About Civil cases, pendency rose during the same period from 2,57,620 to 5,30,994. In this way, broadly speaking, pendency of both Civil and Criminal cases has doubled during last ten years and of Sessions cases gone up about two and a half times during the same period.

6. Graph of pendency in the High Court presents a still more disappointing picture. In the beginning of 1980, total number of all categories of pending cases was 1,03,338. This figure reached 4,99,746 on June 30,1989. The pendency thus became five times in about ten years. This figure includes about 40,000 Second civil appeals, about 20,000 First Civil appeals and over 5,000 civil revisions. Number of pending criminal appeals is about 30,000 and criminal revisions about 15,000. Added to it is the large number of bail applications and those under Sec. 482 Cr. P.C.

Practically in all these cases it is the common man who is involved.

7. On all accounts there is going to be no let up. Filling in all areas of litigation oversteps the corresponding disposal. Problem of delays is becoming further agonizing on account of growing tendency on the part of the larger sections of the Bar going on strikes and staying away from main work on flimsy and unjustified grounds. Unbelievable situation is that in about 1/3rd of the districts of the State, working days in the courts have been brought down to 100 to 110 in a year in recent times. Judicial system in its present form is fighting for its credibility and its very survival.

8. Lok Adalat has come up as a supplemental forum to help and aid the judicial system. Thanks to the constitutional mandate contained in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India inserted through the 42nd amendment in 1976. This provision requires the State to ‘secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.’

To carry out this constitutional mandate, State Legal Aid & Advice Boards have been set up almost in all the States of the country, headed by the Apex Body known as Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes (CILAS). A sitting Judge of Hon’ble Supreme Court (presently Hon’ble Mr. Justice A.M. Ahmadi) is the Executive Chairman of CILAS while the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India the India is its Patron-in Chief. In Uttar Pradesh State Legal Aid & Advice Board was set up in the year 1981 but the schemes and programmes of Legal Aid could make effective headway only from the year 1984-85. Legal Aid in the form of Court-fees, Court expense, engagement of Counsel to initiate and contest cases before the courts/Tribunals is extended to the eligible persons who seek it, namely, Women, Children, Members of Scheduled Castes/Tribes, Ex-army personnel and all others whose annual income does not exceed Rs. 9,000/-. Another and more effective and direct form of help is extended to the poor and needy through settlement of certain categories of cases by organizing Lok Adalats.

9. Lok Adalat has a positive contributory role in the administration of justice. It supplements the efforts and work of the courts. Area of contribution chosen for the purpose specially concerns and helps the common man, the poor, backward and the needy-most sections of the society.

When the bread-earner dies in a motor accident, the victim’s family expects and requires to be provided compensation without the least delay. Undue delay in settlement of Motor Accident Compensation claims in most cases defeats the very core of the purpose. It is in this area that Lok Adalat is rendering very useful service to the needy. It is no mean achievement that during the period of last six years (1985-86-1990-91) as many 9,238 Motor Accident Compensation claims were settled at the Lok Adalats resulting in payment of Rs. 26,27,63,977.30 as compensation. It is not merely the question of payment, the time and expense factor and saving the victim families from harassment involved in execution and appeal proceedings are of considerable importance. In the year 1990-91 alone, 2,308 Motor Accident Compensation claims were decided and compensation amounting to Rs. 7,55,90,787.15 was paid to the victim families.

10. Despite the combined efforts of the regular courts and the Lok Adalats, number of Motor Accident Compensation claims pending in the district courts, as per the figures received from 54 districts exceeds 15,700; about 1/4th of them are pending for more than three years. The position of Motor Accident Compensation appeals pending in the High Court at Allahabad is still worse. As in March, 1991-2520 Motor Accident Compensation appeals were pending in the High Court, 1121 out of them having been filed between 1976 and 1985. 170 Motor Accident Compensation appeals have recently been disposed of at the Lok Adalats organized in the High Court at Allahabad. Two more Lok Adalats, one for 2nd November and the other for 16th November, 91 are scheduled to be held for disposal of these appeals. Earlier 143 Motor Accident Compensation appeals were decided through the Lok Adalat held at Lucknow Bench – 103 in March, 1990 and 40 in February, 1991.

11. Another useful area where Lok Adalats are making their contribution are the matrimonial cases, including those under section 125 Cr. P.C. From 1985-86 up to March 31, 1991-3635 matrimonial cases have been decided through the forum of Lok Adalats. Concerted efforts are need in this area also, as over 34,000 such cases (including ones under Sec. 125 Cr. P.C.) are pending in 54 districts from which reports are received.

12. Lok Adalat for matrimonial disputes is functioning on regular basis at the Boards level where not only advice is rendered in matrimonial matters but efforts are made to settle through mediation, disputes, whether pending in the courts or not, and compromises arrived at are then required to be filled by the parties before the court concerned for formal orders.

13. Yet another area where Lok Adalats can claim proud achievement is the disposal of petty criminal cases punishable by fine. As many as 5,60,933 petty criminal cases were decided at the Lok Adalats from 1985-86 up to March 31, 1991 resulting in realization of Rs. 2,04,56,428.11 as fine. Methodology adopted in these cases is to organize maximum number of magisterial courts to work as Lok Adalats. Service of summons is done by post for which funds are specially allocated by the Board. As regards the quantum of fine for the other minor Acts, monitoring is done to maintain uniformity and reasonableness. Big districts where pendency of criminal cases is very heavy are specially chosen. Bulk disposal of such cases relieves the magisterial courts of heavy burden of work enabling them to regulate their case diary to take up cases pertaining to serious offences. Figures received from 54 districts give out the pendency of 2,85,546 petty criminal cases. Concentration mainly is in 26 districts. Special efforts are being made to organize exclusive Lok Adalats to clear off, or atleast substantially reduce these arrears, in coming months.

14. There are some other areas of litigation also which mainly concern the common man and where a real helping hand can, and requires to, be extended through the Lok Adalats. The U.P. Public Services Tribunal Act, 1975 was enacted with the hope and expectation that it will not only relieve the burden of regular civil courts but will help in quicker disposal of service matters of government servants/other public servants with Public Sector Undertakings of the U.P. Govt., as a step conducive to better and more efficient management of the public services. The situation, however, unfortunately, is that the arrears are steadily going up and pendency at present exceeds 15,000. On the suggestion of this Board, the State Govt. has accepted that simple categories of pending cases before the Services Tribunals may be handled at the Lok Adalats. These categories include cases in which facts are undisputed and relief is confined to payment of pensionary benefits, fixation of pay and payment of arrears, where impugned order is based on uncommunciated or expunged adverse entries or against which representations made remained undisposed of and in cases in which points involved are simple and clear. Lists of such cases are under preparation and spadework is in progress for organizing special Lok Adalats at the Board’s level for disposal of these cases.

15. For the present this Board and for that purpose the District Legal Aid Committees are concentrating on the disposal of Motor Accident Compensation claims, Matrimonial cases, petty criminal cases and certain categories of Revenue cases. Once old heavy pendency in the courts is effectively contained, efforts will be directed in other areas of litigation also in the service of common man, the backward and poor sections of the society.

16. Lok Adalat not only provides relief to the common man by way of early disposal of his matter but also saves his time and heavy expense involved in litigation. There is no question of execution, appeal or revision proceedings or any other incidental offshoot of the litigation when the matter is settled through compromise at the Lok Adalat. Disposal through compromise brings an end to the old subsisting tension and bitterness and promotes amity, goodwill and welfare amongst the litigating parties, also to the benefit of the society as a whole.

17. The programme of Legal Aid and Lok Adalat is a means of great social service particularly to the poor, backward, ignorant and exploited sections of the society. It requires to be taken up and implemented with missionary zeal and in a spirit of service and commitment. In one way or the other I am associated with this work for quite some years and, I think, it has not only taken off but has taken strong roots in this State; with some more cooperation, help and support of all the concerned, it can gather further momentum.

18. At initial stages, the Bar expressed strong reactions against the programme of Lok Adalats. Impression generally formed was that settlements at the Lok Adalats would adversely affect the purse of the members of the Bar. For that reason there was, overall, lack of cooperation from the Bar in this work. Over the years, however, position has vastly changed. There is realization that work in the courts is progressively increasing and there is no dearth of briefs for the lawyers, who inspire confidence by their contacts, sincerity, ability and hard work. Furthermore, functional area of the Lok Adalat is limited mainly to the specified categories of cases and the lawyer’s in one way or the other remain associated with this work also. Members of the Bar are usually the leaders of the society and there is obvious realization on the part of larger sections of the Bar that their cooperation in this work of service to the needy-most litigants should come forward unhesitatingly. No doubt there are difficulties in this regard in a few districts of the State but when the matter is put across in the right perspective and a little more persuasively, by the District Judge, the programme will receive cooperation and would, I think, be carried forward smoothly and successfully.

19. At the district level, District Judge as Chairman of the District Legal Aid Committee and the other judicial officers are the persons responsible for carrying out and promoting this work. Being already heavily busy, they have to snatch time with difficulty for mediatory work at the Lok Adalats and in organizing and working Lok Adalats on Sundays etc. For achieving better results from this programme, it would, I think, be useful to think of some motivational techniques. Human nature as it is, incentives carry great motivating force. Reward and punishment is an old accepted management technique. Success depends on genuine cooperation and efforts of those who actually carry forward the programme. The Hon’ble High Court is accordingly requested to consider this aspect; some monetary advantage or in the form of compensatory leave may be allowed in one way or the other to the District Judges and other Judicial officers for the Lok Adalats work done on Sundays and other days. Active cooperation and performance in Legal Aid and Lok Adalat programmes may usefully be included to form part of annual character roll entries.

20. Special efforts are being made at the Boards level to secure meaningful cooperation of the police, the General Insurance Companies and U.P. State Roadways Transport Corporation in the speedy disposal of Motor Accident Compensation claims at the Lok Adalats. Difficulty in securing documents like Insurance Policy, Registration of Vehicle, Driving License of the person driving the vehicle at the time of accident, post-mortem examination/injury reports etc. is one of the factors responsible for delay in this work.

A circular letter no. 24/VIId-108 Admn. (G), dated April 30, 1988 was sent to all the District Judges by the High Court requiring them to ensure that in Motor Accident Compensation cases, the Magistrates shall as far as possible, get prepared Photostat copies of Driving License, Registration certificate and the Insurance certificate before releasing the vehicle involved in an accident and place the same on the record of the case. Letters to that effect were also sent from time to time by this Board. However, strict compliance of this direction, it appears, is not being done by the courts concerned. It will greatly facilitate this work if strict compliance of this direction is ensured.

21. In a good number of districts of the State, the members of the Bar are abstaining from work in the courts on Saturdays. The working days can be utilized by the courts to promote and step up the progress and speed of the Legal Aid and Lok Adalats work.

22. I feel confident that with a little more active support and help of the High Court, pace of this work can be pushed up and the movement can gain great momentum. To support and help this programme is to help the judicial system itself and to support the very cause for which the system exists and stands. The influential, rich and resourceful are able to look after their interest very well, rather some of them, it appears, are able to exploit the situation in their favour. It is the common man – poor, ignorant and exploited, who need sour support and help. The programme of Legal Aid and Lok Adalats is meant mainly to help this section of the litigants.