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EXPRESSING concern over lok adalats taking over judicial role, the Supreme Court has said that the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act relating to the conciliators shall be applicable as guidelines for the effective functioning of such bodies. The apex court in the meanwhile asked the National Legal Services Authority to issue an uniform guideline for the effective functioning of lok adalats as an alternative dispute resolution process across the country.

A bench comprising Justice R V Raveendran and Justice D K Jain said, “We suggest that the National Legal Services Authority as the apex body, should issue uniform guidelines for the effective functioning of the lok adalats. The principles underlying following provisions in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, relating to conciliators, may also be treated as guidelines to members of Lok Adalats, till uniform guidelines are issued: Section 67 relating to role of conciliators; Section 75 relating to confidentiality; and Section 86 relating to admissibility of evidence in other proceedings.”

The court said, “Thousands of lok adalats are held all over the country every year. Many members of lok adalats are not judicially trained. There is no fixed procedure for the lok adalats and each adalat adopts its own procedure. Different formats are used by different lok adalats when they settle the matters and make awards”.

“We have come across lok adalats passing ‘orders’, issuing ‘directions' and even granting declaratory relief, which are purely in the realm of courts or specified tribunals, that too when there is no settlement. As an award of a lok adalat is an executable decree, it is necessary for the lok adalats to have an uniform procedure, prescribed registers and standardised formats of awards and permanent record of the awards, to avoid misuse or abuse of the ADR process,” observed the court.

Justice Raveendran writing the verdict for the bench said, “Although the members of lok adalats have been doing a commendable job, sometime they tend to act as judges, forgetting that while functioning as members of lok adalats, they are only statutory conciliators and have no judicial role. Any overbearing attitude on their part, or any attempt by them to pressurise or coerce parties to settle matters before the lok adalat (by implying that if the litigant does not agree for settlement before the lok adalat, his case will be prejudiced when heard in court), will bring disrepute to lok adalats as an alternative dispute resolution process (ADR process) and will also tend to bring down the trust and confidence of the public in the judiciary”.

The apex court took a strong exception of an award passed by a lok adalat in Kerala.

On May 25, 2007, it had asked the appellants B P Moideen Sevamandir and Anr to vacate certain buildings on or before July 31, 2007, and further directed that on such surrender, another portion shall belong to the appellants. Such an ‘award' could have been made by the Lok Adalat only when there was a final settlement between the parties, said apex court allowing the appeals.

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