Law

Are One-Day Lok Adalat Camps Paving the Way for Forgery in Rajasthan?

Under the 'Nyay Aapke Dwar' campaign by the Vasundhara Raje government, village camps, burdened with meeting targets, are deciding cases even in the absence of parties to a dispute.

Jaipur: From May 1 to June 30, ‘mega’ Lok Adalat camps are being organised across Rajasthan as a part of the state government’s ‘Nyay Aapke Dwar’ (Justice at Your Doorstep) campaign to dispose of pending revenue cases through out-of-court mediated settlements.

The pending revenue cases are transferred to these Lok Adalats by courts on their own and the parties concerned are given notice to appear before these day-long adalats (courts) in various gram panchayat samitis.

Officials at a Lok Adalat in Jhotwara scrutinising the cases fit to be heard. Credit: Shruti Jain

The campaign, launched by the Vasundhara Raje government, is meant to clear the pending cases to improve the government’s record ahead of the assembly elections later this year. For the same, a daily update of cases/applications on the Revenue Court Management System (RCMS) portal is mandatory.

Burdened with achieving targets from a single-day camp, some of the Lok Adalat panels are even reportedly deciding cases in absence of one of the parties or both the parties, based on merit.

To take a closer look at the much-hyped ‘speedy’ disposal of cases by these camps., The Wire visited a Lok Adalat camp under a campaign held at Jhotwara panchayat samiti on June 11 and found that barring a few, most parties involved in disputes turned up in these camps. However, most of the partie said they were not so willing to be a part of this “alternate dispute resolution mechanism”.

Prabhu Dayal outside the Jhotwara panchayat samiti. Credit: Shruti Jain

Prabhu Dayal, a resident of Jaisa Bora ki Nangal was given a notice three years ago to appear before the Lok Adalat for settlement of his property dispute but he had refused to make any appearance then. Last month, he received the notice again. This time, he appeared before the Lok Adalat just to ensure that the other party doesn’t take advantage of his absence.

“We don’t want to make any compromises in the case. There is no chance of settlement, the property is ours. We have come here just because our case records were forcibly transferred here and we don’t want the other party to take a decree in their favour in our absence. This is just unnecessary trouble for us, but we’ll take the next date and go”, he told The Wire.

Like Dayal, there were dozens of people at the camp who didn’t agree for the reference of their cases to the Lok Adalat but had to be present there.

While section 20(3) of the Legal Services Authorities Act has vested in the civil court, the power to refer the cases to Lok Adalat on its own, it becomes a futile exercise to try to reach a compromise or settlement if the parties disagree on any redressal through Lok Adalats.

The absence of joint appearance of parties not only renders the Lok Adalats pointless, but also paves the way for fraud. For instance, many of the parties had brought along ‘signed-affidavits’ of the opposing parties, stating that the issue had been settled between them.

While, the sub-divisional ffficer (SDO) at the Jhotwara camp didn’t permit settling of cases in absence of the opposing parties, the situation in other camps was different.

In a Lok Adalat camp in Kalwar village of Rajasthan, under the campaign, the magistrate accepted allegedly forged documents submitted by the plaintiff and issued a decree.

Screen shot of a report in Patrika.

Later, an FIR was filed against the additional chief magistrate of Sambhar Lake, Nishu Agnihotri, Kishangarh tehsildar Purshotam Jangid, patwari Mamta Ghasal and the three plaintiffs.

“An FIR has been filed against the ACM Sambhar lake and five other persons under section 420 (cheating and dishonesty inducing delivery of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 120 (concealing design to commit offence), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 467 (forgery of valuable security), 470 and 471 (using forged documents as genuine) of the Indian Penal Code at the Nyay Aapke Dwar campaign in Jorpura-Sundariyawas gram panchayat of Rajasthan,” Rajeev Yaduvanshi, Station House Officer, Kalwar police station told The Wire.

The defendant, Hanuman Prasad Sharma, in his complaint has claimed that in his absence at the Lok Adalat hearing, the plaintiff presented his forged signature on the compromise affidavit and the magistrate gave a decree on the claim of the opposing party. He also claimed that the plaintiff, in collusion with the tehsildar and the magistrate, sought subjugation of his land.

Transgression of the limit on Lok Adalats

The jurisdiction of a Lok Adalat is limited to making an effort to bring about a ‘settlement or compromise’ between the parties to the dispute with their consent, so that there is no scope for appeal or revision. It can only pass a consent decree but has no jurisdiction to decide the case on merit.

“Compromise” means settlement of differences by mutual concession. It is an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims by reciprocal modification of demands and is always bilateral. “Settlement”, on the other side, is termination of legal proceedings by mutual consent.

Speaking to The Wire, Ashish Kumar, sub-divisional officer, Jaipur, said, “If there is consensus among the parties of the dispute to settle the matter then we take that on priority basis, but such cases related to revenue hardly come. Under this programme, we also monitor the cases that have lost their relevance or the parties are not appearing for long time and dispose them of too. It is basically a court camp – a mixture of a court as well as Lok Adalat, here we can decide cases on merit as well.”

Special directions for cases where the state government is a party

As per the directions issued by the government, the revenue Lok Adalats under the campaign have the power to dispose of only those pending cases/applications where the state government is not a party.

At the camp, a suit against the Rajasthan government filed by Laduram Sulniya, pending since a decade, was transferred to the Lok Adalat but couldn’t be dealt with due to the restricted powers of this adalat.

Similarly, there was no relief at the camp for aggrieved parties that had filed cases against influential persons in their villages.

Sayar Kanwar waiting for justice since the past 30 years. Credit: Shruti Jain

For instance, Sayar Kanwar’s father had filed a suit some 30 years ago against the sarpanch (village head) of Himmatpura village over a land dispute, but the case is still pending.

“I was told by our advocate to go to the Lok Adalat for the next hearing but not sign on any document. The sarpanch is dead now and there is no one to hear us anywhere,” she said.

Where are the numbers coming from?

With each Lok Adalat camp, the Rajasthan government is claiming settlement of thousands of pending cases but most of the cases/applications that come to these adalats are for namantaran (mutation), simant gyan/patargadi, takasma (measurement of the land), haq tyag (relinquish the rights over the land) and conversion from non-khatedari tenant to khatedari tenant, meant for the revenue department.

The tehsildars and patwaris process these applications and send the progress report to the SDO to be updated on the RCMS software, which are later used by the government as ‘settled’ cases.

Cases listed at the Lok Adalat. Credit: Shruti Jain

“Very few people come to the Lok Adalat for a compromise,  they mostly come for the mutation and other revenue-related applications,” Suresh Sharma, a tehsildar at the camp told The Wire.

The status of the pending cases is so pitiable that a large number of cases transferred to the Lok Adalats were at the stage of talvi, the preliminary stage where the defendant is issued notice about the case being filed against them. These cases are either disposed of in the absence of both the parties or given a next hearing date.

“We dispose of the cases that are pending since decades and no party has ever made an appearance. If there is an appeal against the order, we reopen them. Else, this helps in manage the pendency,” said Kumar.

Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist.

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