Act as conciliators, not adjudicators: HC tells Lok Adalats
Sets aside two orders passed by the Chairman Tehsil Legal Services Committee, Handwara, (CJM)
Srinagar, Mar 26: “Lok Adalats should resist the temptation to play the role of judges and constantly strive to function as conciliators,” the J&K High Court said today while setting aside the orders by such an Adalat at Handwara.
The High Court set aside two orders passed by the Chairman Tehsil Legal Services Committee, Handwara, (Chief Judicial Magistrate), who had directed the Public Works and the Roads and Buildings departments to clear the pending bills of a contractor besides calling for seizure of the operations of their official bank accounts.
The departments assailed the Lok Adalat order on the grounds that the parties did not arrive at any settlement, yet, without any jurisdiction, it determined the issue by assuming unto himself the powers of a civil court.
The officials cited the J&K Legal Services Authorities Act 1997 which states that Lok Adalats are limited to the extent of seeking a settlement or compromise between the parties and shall not determine the issues on evidence or merit.
The petitioner departments also referred to a full bench decision of the apex court wherein the court held that the functions of the Lok Adalat are conciliatory and they do not enjoy adjudicatory powers.
It is mentionable that a contractor had constructed a steel decked bridge over the Nallah Talari in Handwara and submitted a bill in 2015.
The bill was verified by concerned authorities but only an amount of Rs 53 laks out of Rs 86 lakhs was released in his favor. The non-payment of the remaining amount brought the contractor to a Lok Adalat, which in 2017 directed the authorities to pay the contractor his remaining amount.
Justice M K Hanjura, who heard the case, held that Lok Adalats have no adjudicatory or judicial functions and that their functions relate purely to conciliation.
A Lok Adalat determines a reference on the basis of a compromise or settlement between the parties at its instance and puts its seal of confirmation by making an award in terms of the compromise or settlement, he observed.
When the Lok Adalat is not able to arrive at a settlement or compromise, no award is made and the case record is returned to the court from which the reference was received for disposal in accordance with law, he said.
Lok Adalats discusses the subject-matter with the parties and persuades them to arrive at a just settlement. In their conciliatory role, they are guided by principles of justice, equity, fair play, he added.
Many sitting or retired Judges, while participating in Lok Adalats as members, tend to conduct Lok Adalats like courts by hearing parties, and imposing their views as to what is just and equitable, on the parties, said Justice Hanjura.
He added that sometimes they get carried away and proceed to pass orders on merits, as in the case in the point, even though there is no consensus or settlement. Such acts, instead of fostering alternative dispute resolution through Lok Adalats, will drive the litigants away from Lok Adalats.
Lok Adalats should resist their temptation to play the part of judges and constantly strive to function as conciliators, he said adding the endeavor and effort of the Lok Adalats should be to guide and persuade the parties, with reference to principles of justice, equity and fair play to compromise and settle the dispute by explaining the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages of their respective claims.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate in the present case, he said, has imposed his views without there being any settlement or compromise, which is against the tenets of law.
“He has recorded the order in such a fashion and manner as if he had to pass a final judgement in a case. In framing the first order, he has taken refuge under the documents that were produced before him by the respondents without recording any settlement or compromise,” he observed.