The Punjab and Haryana high court has a word of caution for lok adalats in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh: Before taking an “avatar” of a court to decide a case on merit between the parties, try to be a conciliator first, then an adjudicator.
The high court bench of justice RK Jain sent back a bunch of petitions to the Chandigarh lok adalat to decide it afresh. The bench also asked the registrar general of the high court to send the order to lok adalats in Punjab and Haryana.
The HC was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging a lok adalat order on utility service dispute in which it was rued that instead of conciliatory proceedings, the lok adalat in question embarked on deciding the case on merit.
Further, the court was told by both parties that lok adalats should not immediately embark upon on its adjudicatory role and first resort to its conciliatory role and only if parties fail to accept the terms of a possible compromise, then matter could be decided on the basis of evidence.
The bench observed that the lok adalat was set up to provide succour to a litigant, who has no financial capacity to take recourse to the regular courts, by deciding their disputes by way of a settlement on the basis of conciliation which is found to be more expeditious and cost-effective. The HC further observed that if lok adalats resort to conciliatory provisions first and invoke adjudication later, the “unnecessary litigation” can easily be avoided before the high court. It will also help in saving court’s time, the bench observed.
The provisions of Section 22C (3) to (7) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 Act provides for conciliation proceedings and in case of failure of the same, a Lok Adalat can pass an order on merit in terms of Section 22C(8) of the Act. The order can be challenged in the high court only.