Supreme Court: In a case where the members of the Lok Adalat, Madhya Pradesh High Court had entered into the merits of the writ petition and had dismissed it on merits, the bench of MR Shah* and AS Bopanna, JJ has set aside the order and has held that it was not open for the members of the Lok Adalat to enter into the merits of the writ petition and to dismiss the same on merits, in absence of any settlement arrived at between the parties.
Relevant provisions under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 explained
As per sub-section (5) of Section 19, a Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or a settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of
- any case pending before; or
- any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before, any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised.
As per sub-section (1) of Section 20 where in any case referred to in clause (i) of sub-section (5) of Section 19- (i) (a) the parties thereof agree; or (i) (b) one of the parties thereof makes an application to the court, for referring the case to the Lok Adalat for settlement and if such court is prima facie satisfied that there are chances of such settlement or (ii) the court is satisfied that the matter is an appropriate one to be taken cognizance of by the Lok Adalat, the court shall refer the case to the Lok Adalat.
It further provides that no case shall be referred to the Lok Adalat under sub-clause (b) of clause (i) or clause (ii) by such court except after giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the parties.
As per sub-section (3) of Section 20 where any case is referred to a Lok Adalat under sub-section (1) or where a reference is made to it under sub-section (2), the Lok Adalat shall proceed to dispose of the case or matter and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties. Sub-section (5) of Section 20 further provides that where no award is made by the Lok Adalat on the ground that no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties, the record of the case shall be returned by it to the court, from which the reference has been received under sub-section (1) for disposal in accordance with law.
Analysis of the provisions
The provisions make clear that,
- the jurisdiction of the Lok Adalat would be to determine and to arrive at a compromise or a settlement between the parties to a dispute and once the aforesaid settlement / compromise fails and no compromise or settlement could be arrived at between the parties,
- the Lok Adalat has to return the case to the Court from which the reference has been received for disposal in accordance with law and in any case,
- the Lok Adalat has no jurisdiction at all to decide the matter on meris once it is found that compromise or settlement could not be arrived at between the parties
The impugned order passed by the Lok Adalat dismissing the writ petition on merits was found to be unsustainable and deserves to be quashed and set aside.
In the present case, the consent to place the matter before the Lok Adalat was to arrive at a settlement and or a compromise between the parties and not for placing the matter before the Lok Adalat for deciding the matter on merits.
“Once there is no compromise and/or a settlement between the parties before the Lok Adalat, as provided in sub-section (5) of Section 20, the matter has to be returned to the Court from where the matter was referred to Lok Adalat for deciding the matter on merits by the concerned court.”
[Estate Officer v. Colonel H.V. Mankotia, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 898, decided on 07.10.2021]
For appellant: Vikramjit Banerjee, ASG
*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah