In an exercise unprecedented for its sheer scale, India’s creaking legal machinery swung into action on Saturday to dispose of over 28 lakh cases in less than seven hours through lok adalats organised across the country.
This is only a fraction of pending cases — over 3 crore at last count — but represents a significant step in clearing the massive backlog, especially as it could now become an annual event.
Lok adalats are an alternative dispute resolution mechanism where parties are encouraged to amicably settle cases outside the formal court system. Generally, cases where parties can reach an amicable settlement, including bounced cheque and bank recovery cases, civil suits, motor accident claims, service matters, family matters and traffic challan cases are taken up by lok adalats.
The adalats, organized by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), state legal services authorities and district legal services authorities, took up 39 lakh cases. NALSA organizes lok adalats on a regular basis but this is for the first time that it has been organized on such a huge scale.
In Delhi alone 300 benches, including at the high court, cleared 3,66,000 cases — which means each bench cleared more than 3 cases every minute on average. This was possible because many cases were bunched together and much of the legal work was done in advance.
While most litigants looked visibly happy over the outcome of their cases, some requested the court to send their cases back to courts.
A few were seen asking their lawyers if the settlement order was satisfactory.
Senior advocate and former additional solicitor general Vikas Singh said: “It will certainly make a difference. The number of cases pending is so large that a certain percentage of cases can always be disposed of through lok adalats. It will lessen the burden of the courts. But it can’t be a substitute for the court system.”
Earlier, inaugurating such a lok adalat at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam said the main object of the adalat was to provide an “approachable forum to the poor, weaker and ignorant people who are often intimidated and confused by the greasy substantive and procedural laws.”
He asked the presiding members of Lok Adalats to ensure that parties are not “intimidated” and “misled” to give consensual settlement as the award made by it are final and cannot be appealed to any court.