A permanent Lok Adalat — a longstanding recommendation of the Women’s Commission — came a step closer to reality on Saturday. A four-bench, daylong session at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS) saw 22 disputes come up for amicable, yet legally-binding, resolutions.
This was the first such effort in the state taken to speedily dispose of complaints before the Commission. Most were marital disputes, including maintenance and renewal of conjugal rights. Supported by the National Women’s Commission and the State Legal Services Authority, WBNUJS provided logistical support, involving students as well as faculty.
“This is meant to be an informal or alternate redressal forum for domestic disputes,” explained Niharendu Konar, head of the legal aid clinic of WBNUJS. The cases before the Lok Adalat, chosen as they may have been resolved in a day, were filed at the Women’s Commission, while others were referred by NGOs working for women’s rights.
“Dates will be fixed for hearings at Hooghly and Cooch Behar as well,” said Jasodhara Bagchi, chairperson of the state Women’s Commission.
Only cases in the pre-litigation stage are handled at such forums and the benches, comprising judges (past and present), advocates and social and legal activists, help the parties come to a mutually acceptable verdict, which has the force of a court order. Members of the Women’s Commission or the NGOs facilitate the process. As both parties have agreed on the final decision of the court, there can be no appeal. “Only if there is a fresh dispute can a new complaint be filed,” added Bagchi.
But the cases heard on Saturday were just the beginning. “From January to October 2003 we have recorded over 700 complaints, now in different stages,” said Gopa Majumder of the Women’s Commission.
While a number of these have been disposed of already, many similar cases are at hand. Once the parties opt for litigation, the Commission cannot intervene. In the absence of a Lok Adalat, the disputes are settled internally at the Commission office with the help of the State Legal Services Authority, though such agreements are not legally binding.