Efficacy of Village Panchayats in the Era of Lok Adalats: A Socio-Legal Study





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An ounce of mediation is worth a pound of arbitration and a ton of litigation” – Joseph Grynbaum

The concept of Alternative Dispute Resolution (hereinafter referred as ADR) is not a new concept to the world. In India also it has been aged since time immemorial. The only difference between the old ADR system and modern ADR system is that the modern ADR system is more systematized and civilized. In the older days, the most famous and the most practised ADR mechanism was the “Village Panchayats”. The small family disputes or property disputes, even the gruesome offences were sorted at the village level by the Village Panchayats organized weekly or monthly. The term “Panchayat” literally means “a group of five people” whose words were considered equal to the pronouncement of God. Mahatma Gandhi also quoted in one of his speech that “India lives in its villages” and almost half of the Indian population lives in villages having almost no income or a very lesser income. So it becomes tough for them to bear the expenses of court. Thus, the most approachable place for mediation for them is the Village Panchayats. Article-40 of the Indian Constitution also states that “The State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self- government.”

But the Panchayati Raj System failed due to certain reasons and gave birth to the concept of “Lok Adalats (People’s Court)” under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 to solve disputes by compromise and conciliation. This became the cheapest form to get justice by the weaker sections of the society.

This research paper would be dealing with the problems related to the traditional panchayat system in India as a mode of dispute resolution. This paper would be talking about the modern mechanism of ADR i.e. Lok Adalats, the panchayats still play an important role and hence deserve attention in the present system too.


‘Awake to freedom’ “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, then an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.– Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1)

It was the year 1947 when after facing so many hardships India finally got its independence from the long and brutal clutches of British rule. During those days India was a land of villages, and most of the rural Indians depend on farming and agriculture. India’s economy during that period was mostly generated out of agriculture. Inspired by the village economy Mahatma Gandhi denoted India as a land of the village and quoted in his words that “the future of India lies in its village.” Also during those days, there was no as such awareness amongst the people and for any dispute resolution the most appropriate method was the ‘Village Panchayats”. In simple word village panchayats consist of five elderly members of the village who are generally considered as god and there words were considered as “word from the god”. Gram Panchayats or the Village Panchayats are one of the cheapest and easiest forms of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) System in India having roots from time immemorial.  The panchayats in India plays a titular role. But, here the basic question that arises is that is an ADR System and the importance of Panchayat due to the emergence of ADR in India.

Overview of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Dispute resolution is an indispensable process for making social life peaceful. Dispute resolution process tries to resolve and check conflicts, which enables persons and group to maintain co-operation. It can thus be alleged that it is the sin qua non of social life and security of the social order, without which it may be difficult for the individuals to carry on the life together. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a term used to describe several different modes of resolving legal disputes. It is experienced by the business world as well as common men that it is impracticable for many individuals to file lawsuits and get timely justice. The Courts are backlogged with cases which result in the delay of a year or more for the parties to have their cases heard and decided. To solve this problem of delayed justice ADR Mechanism has been developed.

ADR System basically stands for Alternative Disputes Resolution Technique. In simple words, ADR refers to any method of resolving the disputes without involving in any sort of litigation. It is a means of settling the disputes outside the courtroom. Alternative dispute redressal techniques can be employed in several categories of disputes, especially civil, commercial, industrial and family disputes. ADR is usually a less formal, less expensive and less time-consuming than regular trial. ADR can also give people more opportunity to determine when and how their dispute will be resolved. It generally includes methods like early neutral evaluation, negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration.

  • Early neutral evaluation: it is a court-based ADR process applied to civil cases, it brings parties and their lawyers together early in the pre-trial phase to present summaries of their cases and receive a non-binding assessment by an experienced, neutral attorney with expertise in the substance of the dispute, or by a magistrate judge. The evaluator may also provide case planning guidance and settlement assistance in some courts. It is purely used as a settlement device and resembles evaluative mediation
  • Negotiation: it is a self counselling between the parties to resolve the dispute. It is the process which does not have any fixed rule but follows a predictable pattern. It is the simplest mean to resolve the dispute. The main aim of negotiation is the settlement of the dispute between the parties by exchange of views and issue of the parties. In negotiation, the party can talk and can share their views without the interfering of any third person.
  • Mediation: Mediation is a process of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party, the mediator, assists two or more parties in order to help them negotiate an agreement, with concrete effects, on matter of common interest; lato sensu is any activity in which an agreement on whatever matter is researched by an impartial third party, usually a professional, in the common interest of the parties.
  • Arbitration: Arbitration, in the law, is a form of alternative dispute resolution — specifically, a legal alternative to litigation whereby the parties to a dispute agree to submit their respective positions (through agreement or hearing) to a neutral third party (the arbitrator(s) or arbiter(s)) for resolution
  • Conciliation: Conciliation is an alternative dispute resolution process whereby the parties to a dispute (including future interest disputes) agree to utilize the services of a conciliator, who then meets with the parties separately in an attempt to resolve their differences. Conciliation differs from arbitration in that the conciliation process, in and of itself, has no legal standing, and the conciliator usually has no authority to seek evidence or call witnesses, usually writes no decision, and makes no award.

Lok Adalat as

The concept that is gaining popularity is that of Lok Adalats or people’s courts as established by the government to settle disputes through conciliation and compromise. It is a judicial institution and a dispute settlement agency developed by the people themselves for social justice based on settlement or compromise reached through systematic negotiations. The first Lok Adalats was held in Unaaim the Junagadh district of Gujarat State as far back as 1982. Lok Adalats accept even cases pending in the regular courts within their jurisdiction.

Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code also provides as to referring the pending Civil disputes to the Lok Adalat. When the matter is referred to the Lok Adalat then the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 will apply.

The Lok Adalat is presided over by a sitting or retired judicial officer as the chairman, with two other members, usually a lawyer and a social worker. There is no court fee, thus making it available to those who are the financially vulnerable section of society. In case the fee is already paid, the same is refunded if the dispute is settled at the Lok Adalat. The Lok Adalat is not as strictly bound by rules of procedure like ordinary courts and thus the process is more easily understood even by the uneducated or less educated. The parties to a dispute can interact directly with the presiding officer, which is not possible in the case of normal court proceedings

On the flip side, the main condition of the Lok Adalat is that both parties in the dispute have to be agreeable to a settlement. Also, the decision of the Lok Adalat is binding on the parties to the dispute and its order is capable of execution through legal process. No appeal lies against the order of finality attached to such a determination is sometimes a retarding factor for however be passed by Lok Adalat, only after obtaining the assent of all the parties to the dispute. In certain situations, permanent Lok Adalat can pass an award on merits, even without the consent of parties. Such an award is final and binding. From that, no appeal is possible.

Lok Adalat is especially effective in the settlement of money claims. Disputes like partition suits, damages and even matrimonial cases can also be easily settled before a Lok Adalat as the scope for compromise is higher in these cases. Lok Adalat is a definite boon to the litigant public, where they can get their disputes settled fast and free of cost. The appearance of the lawyers from the side of parties is not barred.

Lok Adalat are not necessarily alternatives to the existing courts but rather only supplementary to them. They are essentially win-win systems, an alternative to ‘Judicial Justice’, where all the parties to the dispute have something to gain.  When the matter is referred to the Lok Adalat then the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 will apply.

Criteria For Lok Adalat:

Every person who was going file a case under this act should be—–

  • A member of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribes; 
  • A victim of trafficking in human beings or beggar as referred in Article 23 of the constitution; 
  • A woman or a child; 
  • A person with disabilities; 
  • A person is a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic, violence, caste atrocity, flood, earthquake, drought and industrial disaster; 
  • An industrial workman; 
  • In custody; 
  • In receipt of annual income less than rupees nine thousand or such other higher amount and less than rupees twelve thousand or such other higher amount; 

Every Lok Adalat should have own jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise and settlement between the parties to the dispute in respect of any case pending before the court and any dispute at pre – litigative stage.

Composition of Lok Adalat-

At the national level: 

The central government might constitute the body called National legal services authority in which they had conducted Lok Adalat at regular intervals. For every month the Lok Adalat has been held on a single day for throughout the country right from the Supreme Court till Taluk level court. The national legal services authority consists of the chief justice of India, the sitting or retiring judge of the Supreme Court and such other members. These would develop a fund called National legal aid fund which should be utilized for state-level legal aid programmes and schemes. These authorities had constituted the Supreme Court legal services committee for the purpose of performing their powers and functions.

At the state level: 

The state government might constitute the body called State legal services authority in which they had conducted Lok Adalat at regular intervals. The state legal services authority consists of the chief justice of the High court, the sitting or retiring judge of the High Court and such other members. These would develop a fund called state legal aid fund which should be utilized for state-level legal aid programmes and schemes. These authorities had constituted the High Court legal services committee for the purpose of performing their powers and functions. 

At the district level: 

The state government in consultation with Chief justice of High court might constituted the body called District legal services authority in which they had conducted Lok Adalat at regular intervals within the district itself. The district legal services authority consists of the district judge and such other members. These would develop a fund called district legal aid fund which should be utilized for district-level legal aid programmes and schemes. These authorities had coordinated the activities of the Taluk legal services committee and other legal services in the district. 

At taluk level: 

The state authority might constitute the committee called Taluk Legal services committee for each taluk or mandals or for the group of taluks or mandals to coordinate Lok Adalat and their legal services within the taluk or mandala itself. This committee was headed by a senior civil judge who is its ex – officio chairman operating within the jurisdiction of the committee. Here all the administrative expenses and cost of functions were met out from district legal aid fund.

The function of Lok Adalat-

  • They were laid down effective policies and programmes for the purpose of making legal services available easily under this act. 
  • They were made most effective and efficient schemes for the sake of parties to the disputes. 
  • They have utilized their funds only for legal services efficiently and also allocated their funds to state level and district level authorities. 
  • They took various necessary steps by way of social justice litigation with consumer protection and environmental protection activities. 
  • They had trained social workers for legal skills and also encourage the settlement of disputes by way of negotiation, arbitration and conciliation. 
  • They had periodically monitored and evaluated the legal services aid programmes and policies. 

National legal service authorities, 1987

A Legal services authority act was enacted in 1987 which was enshrined in Article 39 – A of the Constitution of India for free legal services to the citizens of India. In this act, all the authorities were called as statutory bodies in which they were provided free aid to a person who hadn’t capable of bear case expenditures and also appointed a lawyer for a person who is going to be a defendant in their case. These authorities were organized LOK ADALAT (called PEOPLE’S COURT) from out of the court settlement

It is an act to constitute legal services authorities to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize.  Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity. Be it enacted by Parliament in the Thirty-eighth year of the Republic of India.

Section 19 of the act provides for organizing of the Lok Adalat- 1) Every State Authority or District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or every High Court Legal Services Committee or, as the case may be, Taluka Legal Services Committee may organise Lok Adalats at such intervals and places and for exercising such jurisdiction and for such areas as it thinks fit.

2) Every Lok Adalat organised for an area shall consist of such number of:- (a) serving or retired judicial officers; and

(b) other persons, of the area as may be specified by the State Authority or the District Authority or the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee or the High Court Legal Services Committee, or as the case may be, the Taluka Legal Services Committee, organising such Lok Adalat.

3) The experience and qualifications of other persons referred to in clause (b) of sub-section (2) for Lok Adalats organised by the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee shall be such as may

be prescribed by the Central Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.

4) The experience and qualifications of other persons referred to in clause (b) of sub-section (2) for Lok Adalats other than referred to in sub-section (3) shall be such as may be prescribed by the State Government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court.

5) A Lok Adalat shall have jurisdiction to determine and to arrive at a compromise or settlement between the parties to a dispute in respect of –

(i) any case pending before it; or

(ii) any matter which is falling within the jurisdiction of, and is not brought before any court for which the Lok Adalat is organised: Provided that the Lok Adalat shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any case or matter relating to an offence not compoundable under any law.

Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is also required to be referred.

Section 21 states about the awards that are given by the Lok Adalat.

Section 21 Award of Lok Adalat- (1) Every award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or, as the case may be, an order of any other court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at, by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to it under subsection (1) of section 20, the court-fee paid in such case shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870 (7 of 1870).

(2) Every award made by a Lok Adalat shall be final and binding on all the parties to the dispute, and no appeal shall lie to any court against the award.

Section 22 of the act talks about the powers of the Lok Adalat- (1) The Lok Adalat shall, for the purposes of holding any determination under this Act, have the same powers as are vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), while trying a suit in respect of the following matters, namely :

  • the summoning and enforcing the attendance of any witness and examining him on oath
  • the discovery and production of any document;
  • the reception of evidence on affidavits
  • the requisitioning of any public record or document or copy of such record or document from any court or office; and
  • such other matters as may be prescribed.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the powers contained in sub-section(1), every Lok Adalat shall have the requisite powers to specify its own procedure for the determination of any dispute coming before it. All proceedings before a Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193, 219 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code and every Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a civil court for the purpose of Section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Village Panchayat

Gandhi ji said that concentration of economic and political power would violate all the essential principles of participatory democracy and thereby of Swaraj. Therefore to promote decentralization, Gandhi ji suggested that the institution of village republics both as institutions of parallel politics and as units of economic autonomy. The village being the lowest unit of a decentralized system, politically a village has to be small enough to permit everyone to participate directly in the decision-making process. It is the basic institution of participatory democracy.

Therefore the idea of village panchayat has come into existence. With the 73rd amendment in the constitution, the legislature has come up with the concept of Panchayati Raj which is commonly known as Village Panchayat. The 73rd amendment added the new article in the constitution that is article 243 and article 243B states about Village panchayat that every village should constitute a village panchayat and it also give direction to the state that it is their duty to constitute village panchayat at every level that is at village, intermediate and district level as per the provision of this article and it also stated that Panchayats at the intermediate level may not be constituted in a State having a population not exceeding twenty lakhs.

As per Article 243C, the Legislature of a State is empowered to make Provisions with regard to composition of Panchayats. The Panchayat area shall be divided into territorial constituencies. The State is empowered to provide for the representation of the chairpersons of the Gram Panchayats, at the village level, the intermediate level or, in the Panchayats at the district level;and MPs of LS / RS, and MLAs/MLCs at a level other than the village level in such Panchayat; where they are registered as electors in Panchayat at the intermediate level and in Panchayat at the district level.

The chairperson of a Gram Panchayat shall be elected in such manner as provided by law, and of a Panchayat at the intermediate level or district level shall be elected by, and from amongst, the elected members.

Three tier of Panchayati Raj System India:-

  1. Village Panchayat
  • In the structure of Panchayati Raj, the Village Panchayat is the lowest unit
  • The Panchayat primarily consist of five representatives elected by the people of the village
  • The members of the gram panchayat are elected for a period of five years by the members of Gram Sabha
  • Only the people who are registered as voters and do not hold any office of profit under the government are eligible for election to the Panchayat
  • There is also provision for co-option of two women and one member of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, if they do not get adequate representation in the normal course
  • As a body, the Panchayat is accountable to the general body of the village known as Gram Sabha, which meets at least twice a year
  • Every Panchayat elects a President or Sarpanch and a Vice-President or Upsarpanch. In some states, the Sarpanch is directly elected by the Gram Sabha either through the show of hands or through secret ballot while in other states the mode of election is indirect
  • The Sarpanch is an ex-officio member of the Panchayat Samiti and participates in its decision-making as well as in the election of the Pradhan and of the members of various Standing Committees.
  1. Panchayat Samiti
  • The second tier of the Panchayati Raj, the Panchayat Samiti is the single representative of vigorous democratic institution to take charge of all aspects of development in rural areas
  • Usually, a Panchayat Samiti consists of 20 to 60 villages depending on area and population. The average population under a Samiti is about 80,000, but the range is from 35,000 to 1, 00,000
  • Generally, the Panchayat Samiti consists of about 20 members elected by and from the panchayats falling in the block area and two women members and one member each from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to be co-opted, provided that they do not get adequate representation otherwise
  • The President of the Panchayat Samiti is the Pradhan, who is elected by an electoral college consisting of all members of the Panchayat Samiti and all the Panchas of the Gram Panchayat falling within the areas. The Up-pradhan is also elected
  • He ensures the implementation of the decisions and resolutions of the Samiti and its Standing Committees
  1. Zilla Parishad
  • Zilla Parishad is the top-most tier of the Panchayati Raj System
  • Generally, the Zilla Parishad consists of representatives of the Panchayat Samiti; all the members of the State Legislature and the Parliament representing a part or whole of the district; all district level officers of the Medical, Public Works, Public Health, Agriculture, Veterinary, Engineering, Education, and other development departments
  • There is also a provision for special representation of women, members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes provided they are not adequately represented in the normal course
  • The Chairman of the Zilla Parishad is elected from among its members
  • The Zilla Parishad, for the most part, performs co-ordinating and supervisory functions. It coordinates the activities of the Panchayat Samitis falling within its jurisdiction. In certain states, the Zilla Parishad also approves the budgets of the Panchayat Samitis.

Judicial Powers

Panchayats decides the minor & minor criminal nature cases such as assault, theft of property, mischief. With the emergence of panchayats the people who have any dispute did not need to go to the district headquarter or district & session court to solve their dispute as the panchayats have the power to give the decision on the matters which are referred to them. They can impose a fine up to Rs. 200/-  as well as they can impose a fine up to Rs. 25 openly those who defy its orders. Normally the decision of the Panchayat is final but an appeal can be made to the Court of District Magistrate with its prior sanction. In criminal cases, the Panchayat can only impose a fine and it cannot sentence anybody to imprisonment.

Procedure in Nyaya Panchayats

The procedure followed by village panchayats is very simple and informal. The procedure codes like Code of Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act apply to the panchayats, but they have the power to call witnesses and the parties for recording their evidence or producing any relevant document or fact. Unlike courts, they have the power to investigate the facts to find out the truth and at the same time, they have the power to punish for its contempt. Lawyers cannot appear before panchayat in any of its proceedings.

Duration of Panchayat:

Every Panchayat shall continue for five years from the date of its first meeting. But it can be dissolved earlier in accordance with the procedure prescribed by State Law. Elections must take place before the expiry of the above period. In case it is dissolved earlier, then the elections must take place within six months of its dissolution. A Panchayat reconstituted after premature dissolution (i.e., before the expiry of the full period of five years) shall continue only for the remainder of the period. But if the remainder of the period is less than six months it shall not be necessary to hold election.

Constitutional Status of Village Panchayat

In the case of Village Panchayat Calangute vs Additional Director of Panchayat the apex court of the country held that Panchayats can formulate their own programmes of economic development and social justice as they enjoy a Constitutional status. The apex court also stated that the framers of the constitution have visualized that the country’s political democracy lies in the village, therefore, they came up with the formation of Panchayats which is a decentralized form of government where each village has to be responsible for its own affairs.  

Efficacy of Village Panchayat in the era of Lok Adalat

Panchayats are the is the judicial components of the judiciary which form the lowest part of the Judiciary. Panchayat is created for the administration of justice at the local or rural levels.

The Panchayat are formed to solve the dispute of people at the grass root levels that are at the beginning of any dispute, there are many advantages which we have of panchayat over the Lok Adalat that are discussed below:

  • As panchayats solve the dispute at the base level of the people which results in the speedy justice and it saves a lot of time of people and courts as they neither have to go to courts nor have to file a case which saves the time and money of people and of court both.
  • The Panchayats give the opportunity to people to developed their leadership skills in the people as in the panchayats the people who are responsible to give decision are selected by the election process so it gives them the opportunity to develop their leadership skills as once they have been selected they have the huge responsibility of the whole village to provide justice as well as to do work for the welfare of the village.
  • Village panchayats provide the inexpensive and speedy justice to the people of rural areas as they have not to pay any types of fees to anyone to get the justice neither they have to wait for a long time to get to the decision as happen in the court.
  • Panchayats provides the protection to the customs and traditions of the village as whenever anyone violates the customs or traditions of the village they punish them due to which the people do not dare to get punished by the panchayats as it leads to the insult to them as well as to their family. So in this way panchayats help to protect the long practising custom and tradition of the village.

As there are so many valid points for the Panchayats but there are some reasons which lead to the declining effectiveness of panchayats and which results in the emergence of Lok Adalat. The reason which leads to the declining status of village panchayats is discussed below.

  • Sometimes the decision of the panchayats is based on the basis of caste and religion as if the one of the party is from the lower caste or from the opposite caste or from the religion which they are opposed off than most of the decision of the panchayats are against them. In this way, the decision of the panchayats is based on the religious biases.
  • Panchayats are the institutions managed by the laymen. They do not have much idea of the law due to which sometimes they can give the decision which can be against the fundamental right of the individual.
  • Justice provided by them is based on caste, community, personal or political considerations. Therefore, chances of injustice cannot be ignored.
  • The people who act as a judged in the panchayats are corrupt or sometimes they are cruel against the people of the same village which directly affect the judgment or decision.

Lok Adalt is the form of Alternative dispute resolution which came into effect in the year 1987 Lok Adalat has emerged one of the best forms of ADR in India. It has some advantages which have made it the most favoured form of ADR. The advantages which the Lok Adalat have are been discussed below:

  • Lok Adalat does not charge any fees in the form of court fees from the people who approach lok Adalat for the settlement of dispute. Which make it free for the people to get the justice.
  • Secondly, the decision of the lok adalt is delivered on the same day which saves the time of the party as they do not have to wait for a long time to settle the dispute.
  • The person who are sitting as a judge to give the decision are basically the retired judges of the courts and also some of them are renowned personality in the field of law. So they give the decision which does not affect the individual fundamental right.
  • The judges of lok Adalat give the decision without any biasness on the behalf of the party appearing before them.
  • Their judgements are binding on the party and the judgment of the lok Adalat have the same status as of the decision of the Trial Court or lower court and the decision of lok Adalat cannot be appealed in any court.


So we can see that the lok Adalat have many advantages over the panchayat as their decision is binding on the parties and the decision is also given by properly following the procedure and by seeing every aspect of the law. Their decision is equivalent to decision of the lower court and is binding on the parties to follow and non-compliance of the order will result in serious action to be taken by the court. Whereas such things do not apply to panchayats as their decision is not binding on the parties as well as the decision does not have any value in the eye of law and can be challenged and most of the decision is biased decision and vague which can be against the fundamental rights of the individuals which we can see in many decision of the panchayats like once the panchayats have given the decision that the person has have raped a girl have to marry that girl and one of the panchayats of Maharashtra regarding the virginity test of the bride on their first night of marriage by putting the white bed sheet on the bed, such types of the decision directly affect the fundamental right of the individual whereas such types of decision is not been given in the lok Adalat their decision is not vague.

This is the main reason due to which the effectiveness of the panchayats has been decreased in the recent years and people faith have increased on the Lok Adalat to get the justice quickly, free of cost and without any biasness.


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