Lok Adalats – A boon for litigants

Lok Adalats have played a significant role in reducing the backlog of cases and promoting alternate dispute resolution in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh. These special courts, also known as People’s Courts, have proven to be an effective mechanism for settling disputes and unclogging the regular court system. As per the available official data, over 8.60 lakh cases were settled in the past three years.
Lok Adalats are characterised by procedural flexibility and the swift resolution of disputes. Unlike regular courts that strictly apply procedural laws like the Civil Procedure Code and Evidence Act, Lok Adalats adopt a more flexible approach when assessing claims. Moreover, the award given by the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties involved and holds the same status as a decree of a Civil Court. In most situations, the decision is non-appealable, which ensures a prompt and final settlement of disputes, preventing unnecessary delays.
The remarkable achievement of disposing of an unprecedented number of cases has been made possible through a combination of factors, with technological advancements playing a major role. After the COVID-19 pandemic, since June 2020, the Legal Services Authorities have integrated technology into the conventional modes of dispute settlement and introduced virtual Lok Adalats, also known as ‘E-Lok Adalats’. Since then, all Lok Adalats, including National Lok Adalats, have been organised through virtual and hybrid modes at many places. This shift has allowed parties to join proceedings from the comfort of their homes or workplaces, eliminating the need for travel and saving time. The success of Lok Adalats can also be attributed to the formulation of decisive strategies. State Legal Services Authorities have been instructed to conduct meetings with various stakeholders across all levels to ensure their cooperation and coordination. A litigant-friendly approach is encouraged, and parties are persuaded to settle cases involving established legal principles. Certain areas of law with a higher potential for settlement, such as bank recovery cases, other financial matters, and family disputes, including matrimonial, are highlighted, and authorities are advised to explore all possibilities of compromise in such cases. Proactive monitoring of processes in financial matters and conducting pre-Lok Adalat sittings are also emphasised to facilitate settlements.
The significant concern lies in the numerous vacant positions within the District and Subordinate Judiciary of both the UTs of J&K and Ladakh, causing adverse effects on both case outcomes and the career progression of Judges. These courts are the cornerstone of the Indian Judicial System, playing a vital role in delivering justice. Despite ongoing efforts to fill these vacancies and ensure expeditious justice for litigants, the large number of unfilled posts is a key factor contributing to the backlog of cases. As a result, judges are burdened with additional charge of other courts, leading to disruptions in case continuity and limited time devoted to individual cases. This situation requires urgent attention and action to preserve the integrity and efficiency of the Indian judicial system.
Despite the surge in pending cases caused by the pandemic, the efficient functioning of Lok Adalats has been instrumental in maintaining a balance in the judicial administration of the Union Territory. The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh has played a proactive role by providing timely instructions and guidance to the Lower Courts, resulting in the disposal of a significant number of cases. All Judges and lawyers deserve commendation for their efforts in embracing technological advancements and dedication to serve to achieve these remarkable results.