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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 20 New Delhi May 7, 2016

Need For Legal Justice

Saturday 7 May 2016

by Bhat Rasif Manzoor and Mohammad Yousuf Dar

Legal justice looks utopian, rather invisible, in societies with big chunks of poor and illiterate population unless the government and its flawless delivery system steps in with probable remedies. Rich people generally seek privilege through courts when they are involved in suits with the poor as the latter can hardly afford the court fee and wakil fee required for pleading their cases. The result is in the form of injustice and exploitation meted out to the poor.

India, by having more than 30 per cent of the poor strata, is not unaffected by legal injustice. In order to tap the menace, the GOI carried out the groundwork during 1980s by starting the programme of legal services so that the downtrodden strata may not suffer. In 1980, the CILAS (Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes) was constituted under the chairmanship of Justice P.N. Bhagwati and in 1987, the Legal Services Authority Act was enacted by Parliament under which the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was set up by the GOI in 1995. According to Section (12) of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987, legal services will be assured to SCs, STs, victims of human trafficking, women, children, disabled, mentally ill, victims of mass disaster, ethnic violence, casteism, natural disaster, prisoners, industrial work, etc. Section 2(1)(c) of the Act provides that the legal services involve the rendering of any service in the conduct of legal proceedings before any court/authority/tribunal and the giving out of advice on legal matters. The authority will provide a counsel at state expense, pay the required court fee and bear all the expenses related to the case. The person need not spend anything on litigation once it is supported by the Legal Services Authority.

The legal aid services are mentioned in the Constitution of India under Part III and Part IV: Article 14 and Article 22,(1) under Part III of the Constitution make it obligatory for the state to ensure equality before law and a legal system based on justice available to all including the poor and downtrodden. Article 39 (A) under Part IV of the Constitution directs the state to promote legal justice based on equality of opportunity and to provide free legal aid through suitable legislation /schemes so that the opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or any other disability.

The sole superior authority which backs, promotes and implements legal services is NALSA. NALSA is an apex body which frames policies and chalks out plans to provide free legal services and free legal awareness to the disadvantaged sections of the society and to the people residing in tribal, backward and far-flung areas. It organises Lok Adalats across the country and stresses on them for amicable settlement of disputes. It is bringing legal awareness through seminars and conferences and is keen to develop and promote a culture of conciliation instead of litigation so that the citizens resolve their differences in a spirit of goodwill. It supports cost-free adjudication through Lok Adalats so that even the poorest of the poor doesn’t suffer injustice arising out of any abrasive action on the part of the state/private person. The Chief Justice of India is the patron-in-chief and the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court is the Executive Chairman of the authority. At the State level, the State Legal Services Authority under the Chief Justice of respective High Courts and at District level District Legal Services Authority under the respective District Judge work and act to give effect to the policies of NALSA.

According to statistical estimates, 15 lakh Lok Adalats have delivered justice to about 8.5 crore people till now and the movement needs to be taken forward for better accomplishment. The Department of Justice in the Ministry of Law informed Parliament on March 2012 that 2,68,51,766 cases were pending in subordinate courts. The number of cases pending in all the courts is established to be more three crores. Concerned over a backlog of more than three crore cases in courts in India, H.L. Dattu on December 6, 2014 has asked the Chief Justices of all courts to ensure expeditious disposal of cases pending for five years or more. The present Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, on December 3, 2015, also said on the issue of pending cases: “We can announce that 2016 will be the year for cleaning arrears.” He too estimated that 30 million cases are pending across various courts. While highlighting the need for legal services in India where most of the poor and illiterate suffer injustice owing to the negligible access to courts, Narendra Modi spoke about “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Nyay” on November 9, 2015. According to the Chief Justice of India, Justice Thakur, NALSA is now planning to involve Bollywood actors, who are very sympathetic to the social cause, in promoting legal awareness of the poor through the audio-visual medium. This is an improvement and will help to counter the loopholes by reaching out to the poor people living in every nook and corner of the country. Moreover, Nyaya Deep, the official newsletter of NALSA, which promotes a healthy working relationship between legal service functionaries, needs to gain more circulation for making the project a successful accomplishment. In order to provide free and competent legal service, the NALSA has framed the National Legal Service Authority (Free and Competent Legal Service) Regulations, 2010. The salient feature of the Regulations is engaging senior competent lawyers on payment of regular fees in special cases like where the life and liberty of a person are in jeopardy.

Legal aid is not a charity or bounty, but is an obligation of the state and right of the citizens. The prime object of the state should be¯equal justice for all. Thus, legal aid strives to ensure that the constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the downtrodden and weaker sections of the society. But in spite of the fact that free legal aid has been held to be a necessary adjunct of the rule of law, the legal aid movement has not achieved its goal. There is a wide gap between the goals set and met. The major obstacle to the legal aid movement in India is the lack of legal awareness. People are still not aware of their basic rights due to which the legal aid movement has not achieved its goal yet. It is the absence of legal awareness which leads to exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits of the poor.

Bhat Rasif Manzoor is a Lecturer in Political Science at Government model BHSS, Anantnag and Mohammad Yousuf Dar is a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir.