Lok Adalat: The road to efficient dues recovery
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Dues recovery for loans, credit cards and cheque bounces by banks in India has always been a dicey issue. Filing civil cases in India’s over burdened courts leads to prolonged litigation and inordinate delay. Hence banks employ collection agencies who sometimes use coercion or other quasi-legal methods which have been frowned upon by Indian courts. In such a scenario, Lok Adalats have presented a viable alternative for dues recovery. Lok Adalat (People’s Court) is an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism in India for compoundable offences which are organized by the government and presided over by a judge or a person of respect with legal knowledge. A bank which has a large number of outstanding cases in the normal courts, can request the Legal Service Authority of a state to organize a Lok Adalat especially for the unresolved cases, the cost of which is generally borne by the bank. The advantages of Lok Adalat are: • It resolves disputes through negotiation and compromise in an informal atmosphere. If a compromise cannot be reached it is sent back to the normal court • Technical legal procedures are not strictly followed and hence the process is much quicker than normal courts. A Lok Adalat in January in Chennai this year disposed of 226 cases and recovered a whopping Rs.11.2crore (approx USD 2.4mn) on a single day. • No requirement of court fees or a lawyer and hence cheaper • Any decision by a Lok Adalat is fully enforceable by law and cannot be appealed against Indian banks have increasingly turned to Lok Adalats for dues recovery. The trend, which was started by public-sector banks like the State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda and Central Bank of India, has been adopted by private banks like ICICI as well. Public response has been extremely positive towards this mechanism as it is easier to resolve these issues via Lok Adalats rather than letting them linger on in normal courts and facing collection agents. The easier and quicker redressal of cases, more favourable terms of settlement (than would be possible in a normal court) coupled with the legal validity and enforceability of Lok Adalat decisions have made people adopt Lok Adalats. Lok Adalats have been hugely successful not only in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Chennai but also in smaller cities. With the increasing success of Lok Adalats, Lok Adalats have expanded in terms of size and technology use. ICICI organized a “digital” Lok Adalat in Delhi for 100,000 cases. It was organized across 5 district court compounds which were connected to a centralized server through which the case facts could be accessed and the resolution be electronically sent to the concerned judges. It is not that Lok Adalats have an unblemished track record – they have been somewhat of a failure in Mumbai - but Lok Adalats have offered a viable alternative to banks for dues recovery and it is likely to be adopted by more banks in future.