The system of Lok Adalat or Nyayalaya was introduced in 1984 for the speedy settlement of cases and to reduce the burden of the regular courts, which now have a staggering backlog of nearly 24 million cases. The introduction of Lok Adalats added a new chapter to the justice dispensation system of this country and succeeded in providing a supplementary forum to the victims for satisfactory settlement of their disputes. This system is based on Gandhian principles. It is one of the components of ADR systems. Its origin can be traced to the Vedic times. There are references to such a system in the ancient treatises of Yajnavalkya, Brihaspati and Kautilya. In ancient times the disputes were used to be referred to "panchayat" which were established at village level. Panchayat's used to resolve the dispute through arbitration. It has proved to be a very effective alternative to litigation. This very concept of settlement of dispute through mediation, negotiation or through arbitral process known as decision of "Nyaya-Panchayat" is conceptualized and institutionalized in the philosophy of Lok Adalat. It involves people who are directly or indirectly affected by dispute resolution. Camps of Lok Adalats were started initially in Gujarat in March 1982 and now it has been extended throughout the Country. The first Lok Adalat was held on March 14, 1982 at Junagarh in Gujarat the land of Mahatma Gandhi.
The advent of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 gave a statutory status to Lok Adalats, pursuant to the constitutional mandate in Article 39-A of the Constitution of India, and it contains various provisions for settlement of disputes through Lok Adalat. One of the objectives of the Act is to provide for organization of Lok Adalats in order to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity.
According to section 18 of the Legal Service Authority Act, every State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or, as the case may be, Taluk Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit.
Every Lok Adalat organised for an area shall consist of such number of -(a) serving or retired judicial officers and (b) other persons of the area as may be specified by the State Authority or the District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or the High Court Legal Services Committee, or as the case may be, the Sub-Divisional/Taluk Legal Services Committee, organising such Lok Adalats.
A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of –
(i) any case pending before; or
(ii) any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised:
However, the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any case or matter relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.
Where the matter is settled before the Lok Adalat an award is passed by the Lok Adalat on the basis of the settlement.
Every award of the Lok Adalat:
1. Shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or, as the case may be, an order of any other court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at, by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to it under sub-section (1) of Section 20, the court-fee paid in such case shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870.
2. Shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.
Lok Adalats have competence to deal with a number of cases like:
During the last few years, Lok Adalats have been found to be a very effective tool of alternate dispute resolution in India. It is most popular and effective because of its innovative nature and inexpensive style. The system received wide acceptance not only from the litigants, but from the public and the legal functionaries in general.