LOKADALAT OR NEETHI MELA
Lok Adalat, as the name suggests, is the court of the people. As justice Iyer has said it is a court “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It can hardly be called a court as the scene is quite different from the one people see in the law courts from the Taluka level to the Supreme Court, the highest seat of justice in the country. The first experiment of a Lok Adalat was made by Harivallabhbhai Parekh at Rangpur in Gujarat in 1982. Rangpur is a small town. Mr. Parekh realized that even small case of family problems, matrimonial problem, compensation of accidents, farm feuds and many other noncriminal petty cases
Poor people have to run from court to court. Sometimes they have to go even appellate courts in cities and High Courts in the Capital. The case lingers on for years together. The poor man is exploited by lawyers, bureaucrats and other government officials. In some of the litigations they spend even more than the amount involved. Moreover they face the pressure from land lord and the village money lender who have their own pulls. In some cases they face the pressure from politicians too. Some petty cases linger on for years together.
Mr. Parekh, a social worker, believed in the moral bearings in human nature. He had realized that there comes a stage when both sides get tired and want to settle the case through conciliation. His idea was why not to have this conciliation at an early stage. It would save both time and money. The poor man would not be exploited. He will secure justice at the hands of his own men. The Lok Adalat was just an extension of the Nayaya Panchayat already popular in the country. The western system has dominated all fields of activities so does justice too. It is centralized. Lok Adalat is an effort to decentralize it and bring justice to the door of the petitioner.
The proceedings are very simple. Some voluntary organizations send their members; some advocates too offer their services free of charge. Some law students too participate in the activities. They sit together in a class room or verandah of a school or Panchayatghar or some other building. A judge is also present to give the judgment a seal of authority. Files are brought from the court and the parties are invited. The cases are preceded not on judicial intricacies but on humanitarian grounds. The grieved and the oppressor are brought of the same table. They are insisted upon to have conciliation. If it is a case of compensation for an accident on the road or in a factory the amount is ultimately decided. Both the parties are insisted upon a accept it. In family quarrels or land disputes too the social workers are also settled in the same way. All who are present works or humanitarian grounds. The settlements are sometimes so quick that in March 1987 one of the Lok Adalats in Rajasthan settled as many as 2000 cases in one day.
In the North they are known as Lok Adalats whole in the South they are Neethi Melas. The first Neethi Mela was held at Parur in Kerala in 1985. Under one name or the other these Adalats of the Melas have become popular throughout the country as the regular courts have a bad-log of a large number of cases. There is long litigation under present judicial system. The courts fees and the charges of lawyers are exorbitant. The litigants have to travel long distances. In Neethi Melas advice is free. People work voluntary. Justice is immediate. It works as a balm on the painful bickerings. They depend on persuasion and conciliation not on revenge and animosity.
More than 3.00,000 cases were settled in about a thousand sessions of Lok Adalats and Neethi Melas in the eighties. The movement has picked up so much that it has now come even to the metropolitan cities. A Lok Adalat was held at Patiala House Courts in New Delhi initiated by Justice Ahmadi who wanted to bring zero litigation through these courts. Justice Kirpal headed a Lok Adalat in Delhi High Court premises. His view was that arbitration is better than litigation. He taught that this Panchayats system prepares people mentally. They do not insist on justice but are guided by the sense of give and take. By the end of the millennium they took a permanent shape and were adopted by different departments too.
It is a welcome note that Neethi Melas are becoming popular, of course slowly but gradually, in the South too. They may one day compete with the North in this benevolent side of justice too.