The history of the evolution of Lok Adalats, popularly known as people’s court goes back to Vedic times when the kings, in return for taxes paid to him by the people performed the duty of judge. The Vedic king wielded authority as the head of the judiciary and claimed himself as the upholder of Dharma of law like Varma. The judicial powers of the king swallowed with the passage of time and the machinery for the administration of justice put into by him consisted by Sabha and Samiti. The study of Dharmasutras discloses that king started delegating his judicial authority to his royal officers who were the member of village assembly known as the Sabha. The most pronounced feature of Hindu policy was that the law was administered by the Sabha. Normally it was the Sabha or the popular village assembly rather than the king who tried to arbitrate when it was feasible to do so. There is substantial corroboration of the fact that in the later vedic times Samhitas and Brahmanas of the old Vedic tribal council called the sabha developed into the king’s court as well as his council. There were functioning two seats of courts simultaneously, viz the royal court and popular court i.e lok Adalat. With the expansion of royel powers after 600 B.C subordinate royal courts began to be constituted for important towns and cities which were often located in the headquarters of terriritorial division like Sthana. Dronamukha and Kharvatika. These courts functioned under the authority of royal seal and were popularly known as Mudrita in later times. Similarly, there were special Royal courts of criminal jurisdiction known as Kantakasodhana courts. In addition to these royal courts, there were no. of popular courts in the ancient Indian polity. Though the ancient Indian polity was a highly centralized one but it left a number of disputes to be decided by unofficial courts.
GRADATION AND COMPOSITION OF PEOPLE’S COURTS
To reiterate, the lok Adalats i.e., popular courts or people’s courts are for the first instance mentioned in Yajnavalkya Smriti. He mentions three types of popular courts, viz. (a) Puga, (b) Sreni, and (c) kula. Similarly, P.V. Kane is of the view that Puga, Sreni, and kula were arbitration tribunals like modern Panchayats or the lok Adalats of today. The judges of the popular courts had office either by election or by inheritance according to local custom. There was a well established hierarchy of the popular courts, the highest being the court of Gana and the lowest on the ladder was the Kula court. The Sreni court was in between the two. These same courts are mentioned in the same order by Brihaspati who points out that an appeal would lie to the Sreni court from the decision of Kula court and to the Puga court from the decision of the Sreni court. The word Puga appears to have denoted the local corporations of towns are villages during the post-vedic period. The study of chullavaga discloses that the word Puga has been used to have a sense of corporation of a town or a village. Yajnavalkya opines that the Puga court consisted of member belonging to different castes and profession but staying in the same villages or town. Puga courts functioned as an agency of adjudication other than official ones. One find a detail description about the nature and composition of the Puga courts in the philosophy of Altekar. He was of the view that Puga courts consisted of members belonging to different caste and profession and staying in the same villages or town. It is thus clear that Puga courts played an important role almost throughout the long course of Indian history. Though Puga courts were non official, they had the royal authority behind them since they were sanctioned by the king. Puga courts also enjoyed a appellate jurisdiction in all cases decided by Sreni and kula court....