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Sanjay Kumar & Another v/s Secretary, City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad & Others

    W.P. No.7214 of 2007

    Decided On, 31 May 2007

    At, High Court of Andhra Pradesh

    By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE B. PRAKASH RAO & THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE G. BHAVANI PRASAD

    For the Petitioners: P. Shiv Kumar, Advocate. For the Respondents: R2 to R5, Muralinarayan Bung, Advocate.



Judgment Text

G. Bhavani Prasad, J.


The rejection of their petition to set aside the Lok Adalat award dated 28-03-2001 in O.S. No.417 of 1999 as fraudulently obtained, by the order of the Secretary, City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad dated 02-02-2007 led the writ petitioners to challenge the same as illegal.


The factual background is that respondents 2 to 5 filed O.S. No.417 of 1999 on the file of the II Additional Chief Judge, City Civil Court, Hyderabad for specific performance of agreement of sale dated 15-12-1998 in respect of the premises M No.21-7-822, Ghansi Bazar, Hyderabad against the petitioners and their mother and grand mother. The defendants contested the suit and was part heard and the Court to Lok Adalat referred the same. On 28-03-2001, the matter came up before the Lok Adalat for settlement and on the basis of the settlement between the parties; the Lok Adalat passed the award. While recording the terms of settlement, the Lok Adalat also recorded that the contents of the compromise memo filed by both parties were read over and explained to them in Hindi language by their respective advocates and admitted by them to be true and correct. The Lok Adalat directed that the compromise should form part of the award. The plaintiffs, the defendants and their advocates were endorsed to have affixed their signatures/thumb impressions in the presence of the Members of the Lok Adalat Bench in token of consent for the settlement and the award. Subsequently, the petitioners herein filed I.A. (SR) No.6184 of 2006 before the trial Court to set aside the compromise decree (Lok Adalat Award) dated 28-03-2001 as fraudulently obtained. The trial Court rejected the petition, as the petitioners have to question the award before an appropriate Forum.


The father and two brothers of the petitioners filed I.A. No.862 of 2006 in O.S. No.417 of 1999 on the same ground, which was also dismissed by the order of the II Additional Chief Judge, City Civil Court, Hyderabad dated 14-07-2006 in view of Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 (for short ?the Act?). The grand mother of the petitioners filed E.A. No.96 of 2003 in E.P. No.15 of 2003 in O.S. No.417 of 1999 for stay of execution of the decree on the same ground and the same was also dismissed by the II Additional Chief Judge, City Civil Court, Hyderabad by an order dated 16-10-2003.


The petitioners filed the present petition before the Lok Adalat, City Civil Court, Hyderabad again contending that the award is vitiated by fraud and misrepresentation and to set aside the same. The Secretary, City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad passed the impugned order by docket proceedings in O.S. No.417 of 1999, dated 02-02-2007 after hearing the counsel for the petitioners in the absence of the opposite party which denied all the negative allegations made in the petition. The Secretary recorded that there was no possibility of compromise and settlement between the parties and observed that the petition before the Authority is misconceived and not maintainable in view of Section 21 (2) of the Act. He, consequently, rejected the petition.


The petitioners challenged the said order contending that the Secretary ought to have placed the petition before the Lok Adalat constituted under the Act which is the appropriate Forum and should not have assumed the powers for him to adjudicate the matter holding that the petition is not maintainable.


Respondents 2 to 5 resisted the plea on facts and also due to the orders in I.A. (SR) No.6184 of 2006 and I.A. No.862 of 2006 having become final. The award has become final and there is no provision under the Act to set aside an award. The jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India cannot be invoked to reconsider the award. The challenge to the award is vitiated by delay and limitation. Hence, respondents 2 to 5 sought for dismissal of the writ petition with costs.


Sri P. Shiv Kumar, learned counsel for the petitioners strenuously contended that the Secretary of the City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad is incompetent to pass the order in question, while Sri Muralinarayan Bung, learned counsel for respondents 2 to 5 contended that in view of the finality of the award under the Statute, the rejection of the petition was but legal.


The primary question that arises for consideration is the competence of the Secretary of the City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad to pass the impugned order.


The Act provided a statutory backing and support to Lok Adalats, organizing which is one of the functions of the Legal Services Authorities constituted under the Act. A ?Lok Adalat? is defined as meaning a Lok Adalat organized under Chapter VI of the Act by Section 2 (d) thereof and under Section 19, the Lok Adalats are organized by the different Legal Services Authorities constituted at different levels, consisting of the members specified therein. A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise for settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of the matters specified in Sub-section (5) of Section 19 and after taking cognizance as per Section 20, a Lok Adalat shall proceed to dispose of the case or matter and arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties with utmost expedition guided by the principles of justice, equity, fair play and other legal principles as per Sub-sections (3) and (4) of Section 20. Section 21 (2) makes every award made by a Lok Adalat final and binding on all the parties to the dispute and no appeal shall lie to any Court against the award. The provisions of Chapter VI, thus, show a Lok Adalat to be a different and distinct legal entity performing statutory functions than the Legal Services Authorities constituted under the Act. Section 22, while conferring the same powers as a Civil Court on the Lok Adalats in respect of specified matters, also provides the possibility for such powers of the Civil Court being exercised by a Lok Adalat in respect of such other matters as may be prescribed. Subject to the same, Sub-section (2) of Section 22 gives the requisite powers to every Lok Adalat to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it. The Andhra Pradesh State Legal Services Authority Rules, 1995 (for short ?the Rules?) provide in Rule 18 for execution of awards passed by the Lok Adalats in respect of pending cases and prelitigation cases by the Courts specified therein and for refund of Court fee in pending cases. The Andhra Pradesh State Legal Services Authority Regulations, 1996 (for short ?the Regulations?) made in exercise of the statutory power under Section 29-A of the Act, make provisions in respect of Lok Adalats in Chapter IX. Regulation 32 regarding composition of the Lok Adalat, Regulation 36 about functioning of the Lok Adalat and Regulation 47 in respect of miscellaneous matters more particularly indicate the Lok Adalat to be a separate and independent legal entity than the Legal Services Authorities.


The Member-Secretary of the State Legal Services Authority under Section 6 or the Secretary of the High Court Legal Services Committee under Section 8A or the Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority under Section 9 or the Chairman of the Taluk Legal Services Committee under Section 11A perform respectively such functions and exercise respectively such powers as may be prescribed or assigned to them. The Rules provide for the powers and functions of the Member-Secretary of the State Authority in Rule 4. The Regulations provide for functions of the State Authority, powers and functions of the High Court Committee, additional functions of the District Authority and additional functions of the Taluk Committee, but do not provide for any separate powers or functions for the Functionaries therein. Regulation 29 provides for the Secretary of the High Court Committee or the District Authority or the Chairman of the Taluk Committee convening and organizing Lok Adalats at regular intervals. Under Regulation 30 they shall intimate the same to the State Authority, while under Regulation 31 they shall issue notice to the parties concerned. Under Regulation 32 they shall constitute Benches of Lok Adalats comprising of the specified Members and the power of directly supervising the Lok Adalats organized by the respective Bodies was given to the Chairmen of the High Court Committee, the District Authority and the Taluk Committee but not to the Secretaries of the High Court Committee or the District Authority under Sub-regulation 4 of Regulation 32. The responsibility for summoning records and their safe custody was put on the Secretaries of the High Court Committee and District Authority and the Chairman of the Taluk Committee under Regulation 35 and the duty of assigning specific cases to each Bench of the Lok Adalat and preparing a cause list was also placed on them under Regulation 36. Sub-regulation 3 of Regulation 36 puts the responsibility for making sincere efforts to bring about a conciliatory settlement without any kind of coercion, threat or undue influence, allurement or misrepresentation in every case, on every Bench of the Lok Adalat and not on the Secretaries or Chairmen. The panel constituting the Lok Adalat under Regulation 38 shall sign every award of the Lok Adalat Section 21 of the and the Secretaries of the High Court Legal Services Committee or District Legal Services Authority or Chairman of the Mandal Legal Services Committee were only given the power of duly certifying the copies of awards. The Secretaries of the High Court Committee or the District Authority or the Chairman of the Taluk Committee have to compile the results under Regulation 40 and maintain the panels of Lok Adalat Judges under Regulation 41 and maintain record of cases under Regulation 43. In effect and substance, either the statutory provisions or the Rules and Regulations referred to above only entrust secretarial functions and ministerial responsibilities to the Secretaries to the High Court Committee or District Authority or the Chairman of the Taluk Committee in respect of the functioning of the Lok Adalats, which is made more explicit by Sub-regulation 3 of Regulation 47 which specifies that they shall provide all assistance as may be necessary to the Lok Adalats. Their powers or functions are nothing more or nothing less.


A reading together of all the provisions, thus, clearly discloses that the exercise of the judicial powers, performance of judicial functions and discharge of judicial responsibilities in respect of the disputes referred to Lok Adalats, are the exclusive preserve of the respective Benches of Lok Adalats and neither the Act nor the Rules nor the Regulations provide for any delegation of such powers to any other Authority or Functionary. The Lok Adalats in the State were not stated to have specified their own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before them under Sub-section (2) of Section 22 or Sub-regulation 4 of Regulation 47 which provides that every Bench of the Lok Adalat may evolve its own procedure for conducting the proceedings before it and shall not be bound by either the Civil Procedure Code or the Evidence Act or the Code of Criminal Procedure subject, however, to the principles of natural justice. Bereft of any such procedure under Section 22 (2) or Regulation 47 (4), there is no provision or principle which enables the Secretaries of the High Court Committee or the District Authority or the Chairman of the Taluk Committee to assume jurisdiction over the judicial powers or functions or duties or responsibilities of a Lok Adalat, their powers, duties and functions being purely secretarial in nature and administrative in character.


The impugned order by the Secretary of the City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad is styled in form as if it were a judicial proceeding recording the docket proceedings in the presence of such Secretary in O.S. No.417 of 1999. The cause title and the content were as if it was a judicial order and the Secretary gave the order under the hand and the seal of the authority. The Secretary had heard the counsel for the petitioners, noted the absence of the opposite party and rejected the petition with reference to Section 21 (2) of the Act. It was an obvious discharge of a judicial function and undiluted exercise of a judicial power, which the Secretary did not possess. The impugned order is, therefore, manifestly illegal and patently untenable. The assumption of such judicial power by the Secretary and the consequential adjudication of the petition have to be, therefore, considered non-est. in the eye of law.


The learned counsel for the writ petitioners referred to K. Rajam Raju v. Smt. P. Rangamma (2006 (2) A.P.L.J. 147 (HC)) for the proposition that no separate suit is maintainable and that only an application would lie before the same Court which passed the compromise decree which has to consider the issues that are raised in such petition with reference to the compromise decree.


The learned counsel for respondents 2 to 5 relied on P.T. Thomas v. Thomas Job (AIR 2005 SUPREME COURT 3575) and Board of Trustees of the Port of Visakhapatnam v. Presiding Officer, District Legal Service Authority, Visakhapatnam (2000 (5) ALD 682) about no appeal lying from the

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award of the Lok Adalat in the light of Section 21 (2) of the Act. One of us (Hon?ble Sri Justice B. Prakash Rao) held in the later decision that the award is enforceable as a decree and it is final. However, we refrain from expressing any opinion about the applicability of the principles laid down in the above cited three precedents to the petition in question, as it is for the concerned Bench of the Lok Adalat to consider and decide the petition in accordance with law on such petition being placed before it, while it is the duty of the Secretary of the City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad to place the same before such Bench of the Lok Adalat for such consideration and decision. However, adoption of such a course is no expression of opinion on the maintainability or sustainability or otherwise of such petition on fact or in law which shall be determined by the LokAdalat on merits as per law. Therefore, the order in the docket proceedings in O.S. No.417 of 1999 dated 02-02-2007 passed by the Secretary, City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad is set aside and the petition filed by the writ petitioners before the Lok Adalat, City Civil Court, Hyderabad to set aside the award in O.S. No.417 of 1999 dated 28-03-2001 shall be placed by the Secretary, City Civil Court Legal Services Authority, Hyderabad before the Lok Adalat for consideration and decision in accordance with law and the writ petition is allowed accordingly without costs.
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