Unlike the lok adalat, the permanent lok adalat has the power to pass an award even if one of the contesting parties declines to negotiate for settlement, the Punjab and Haryana high court has ruled.
Justice K Kannan has made it clear that the permanent lok adalat has different powers as compared to the lok adalat set up by the central, state, district or taluk legal services authorities. While the lok adalat’s award has always to be consensual but the power could be consensual and non-consensual in case of a permanent lok adalat. The ruling came while dismissing a petition filed by Punjab National Bank, challenging the permanent lok adalat’s order upholding a claim by the depositor.
The order was challenged on the ground that the permanent lok adalat did not have the jurisdiction to decide the issue whenever there was a dispute between the parties as it would otherwise run counter to the scheme of the lok adalat that promotes a decision on mutual settlement between the parties.
However, justice Kannan said, “If the argument which is advanced by the learned counsel is to be accepted, we will come to a situation rendering the institution (permanent lok adalat) meaningless and it will defeat the very purpose of the Act for consigning every act to issue on public utility service to be brought to the corridors of regular courts on the slightest whimper of protest by a respondent not willing to accept the complainant’s claim.”
The court said that the writ petition is dismissed as “wholly vexatious by a public sector bank and an attempt to browbeat the course of justice.”
Commenting on the merits of the case, justice Kannan said that like the permanent lok adalat, he was also not impressed by the bank’s denial of payment of fixed deposit amount to its depositor on the ground that if computer data did not reveal the name of the depositor as a person in whose name the amount was outstanding, it means it must have been paid.
Depositor Suresh Kumar Nagpal had made a fixed deposit of Rs. 10,000 in Punjab National Bank’s Faridabad branch but his joint account holder (his wife) died in 1996. Despite the depositor having submitted the fixed deposit receipt and the death certificate of his wife, the bank had refused to pay him the amount on maturity, stating that the bank’s computer was not revealing his name.