HYDERABAD: No Lok Adalat has the power to hear the parties to adjudicate their dispute as a regular Court. It has no power of adjudication on merits in absence of compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute. The power and jurisdiction of Lok Adalat is confined only to passing of award based on a compromise or settlement between the parties. It has no adjudicatory or judicial functions and its functions relate purely to conciliation.
The Supreme Court in the case of State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh, has held that a Lok Adalat determines a reference on the basis of a compromise or settlement between the parties at its instance, and put its seal of confirmation by making an award in terms of compromise or settlement.
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. The award of the Lok Adalat is merely an administrative act of incorporating the terms of settlement or compromise agreed by parties in the presence of Lok Adalat, in the form of an executable order under the signature and seal of the Lok Adalat.
A case has come up for hearing before the Hyderabad High Court seeking to quash the award passed by the Chairman of Mandal legal services committee, Mancherial of Adilabad district, which falls within the definition of ‘Lok Adalat’ under Section 2(1)(d) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. The committee, in its order, directed the Tahsildar concerned to take steps to rectify the revenue records with regard to ownership and possession of the subject landed property in consideration of the objection petition made by one of the respondents in the case.
The petitioner’s counsel submitted that the committee has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute on merits in the absence of compromise or settlement reached between the petitioner and the respondent. After hearing the case and perusing the material on record and provisions of 1987 Act a division bench of the High Court,comprising Justice CV Nagarjuna Reddy and Justice G Shyam Prasad, said that the power and jurisdiction of Lok Adalat is confined only to passing of an award based on a compromise or settlement between the parties concerned. The award of the Lok Adalat is neither a verdict nor an option arrived at by any decision making process. It shall determine only on the basis of a compromise or settlement between the parties by making an award in terms of the compromise or settlement arrived at, the bench observed.
The bench allowed the petition by quashing the award passed by the committee. “We are indeed surprised that the chairmen of the legal services committees who preside over the Lok Adalats, being either senior civil judges or district judges as the case may be, are acting contrary to the statutory mandate, driving the aggrieved parties to needless litigation before the High Court. There is a need to sensitise the chairmen of the mandal and district legal services authorities on the true gamut of their powers.”