In the Name of Efficiency: The Role of Permanent Lok Adalats in the Indian Justice System and Power Infrastructure
Manoj Kumar Sinha, GLOBAL GOVERNANCE, DEVELOPMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS, 2008
49 Pages Posted: 2 May 2009 Last revised: 13 May 2014
Date Written: April 27, 2009
India, the most populous and diverse democracy in the world, has a legal system to match. This system, a composition of ancient Hindi panchayats (village assemblies), Islamic law, and a formal British judiciary, has long been under immense strain, stifling economic competiveness and the pursuit of justice alike. As Lord Delvin famously quipped “If our business methods were as antiquated as our legal methods we should be a bankrupt country.” There are currently nearly 25 million cases pending in Indian courts, some of which have been appealed and argued for more than 20 years. Meanwhile, India spends only .2 percent of its GNP on the judiciary, which is admittedly an artificial benchmark and should be put in the context of the size of India’s economy and the range of judicial functions that the Indian legal system performs.
In response to the stresses on the Indian legal system, the Indian Supreme Court has spearheaded legal reform that has among its principal aims the reduction of judicial backlog and delay. One of the primary mechanisms through which the Indian Parliament and courts have sought to deal with this problem is through the creation of Lok Adalats (“LAs”) (people’s courts) designed to promote the rapid conciliation and binding resolution of disputes. These efforts have been somewhat successful in decreasing backlog, though it should be noted that a campaign emanating from the Supreme Court in the early 1990s also decreased delay by merely disciplining the courts. Reducing backlog, though, is not the only reason to institute LAs; these bodies also promote the rapid and equitable resolution of disputes in a manner which is culturally attuned to traditional Indian jurisprudence. LAs, though, are not without their critics, including advocates, judges, and certain classes of consumers, each of which have competing vested interests at play. Now, with the creation of dedicated Permanent Lok Adalats (“PLAs”) which are specialized to certain classes of cases, such as electricity disputes, power asymmetries have become more prevalent. This begs the question of whether justice is being compromised in the name of judicial efficiency. Another interrelated public policy query is what role this is having on developing India’s economy, particularly its energy infrastructure. The intersection of these dual issues is the primary subject of this paper.
Keywords: Arbitration, Alternative Dispute Resolution, India, Energy Policy, Infrastructure
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