On Thursday, the National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA), on the occasion of its 22nd anniversary, hosted a commendation ceremony to recognise and honour the admirable endeavours of the legal services authorities and para-legal volunteers operating in districts across the country in successfully bringing justice to the doorstep of the less privileged.
The event, held at Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra, New Delhi, was graced by the presence of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra as the chief guest and Union Minister of Law and Justice and Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad as the guest of honour.
The ceremony also saw in attendance Supreme Court Justice Rajan Gogoi and Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice S Ravindra Bhat, Delhi High Court, and Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman, gathered to laud the contributions of the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) and Para-Legal Volunteers (PLV) in materialising the dream of making justice accessible to the socially, economically and educationally backward sections of the country.
The ceremony opened with Justice S Ravindra Bhat, also the chairman of the Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee, quoting American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Bhat proceeded to elaborate the crucial milestones achieved in the arena of legal aid- the setting up of Legal Assistance Establishments ‘Nyaya Sanyog’ in all states to ensure expeditious dispensation of case related information, and the provision of digital courts and e-filing which was also commended by the World Bank in its recent ‘Doing Business 2018’ Report.
Justice Madan B Lokur, despite the several accomplishments, expressed his disappointment at the fact that only 3% of the litigants are availing of the services of legal aid lawyers at present and, as the chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, appealed to the high court judges to “step out of the high court premises” and adopt aggressive measures for sensitising the public about these competent legal services to guarantee that the opportunity for securing justice is not denied to any citizen.
“Section 436 A CrPC should become a movement,” exclaimed Ravi Shankar Prasad, speaking passionately about the rights of undertrial prisoners. Recognising the efforts of the PLVs as “preachers of the elementary concept of law”, the minister declared to make a recommendation for the conferment of the Padma Shri Award for their excellent service to the community as the first point of contact between the courts and the litigants. He further stated that pro bono lawyering “with empathy and compassion” should be introduced as a parameter for determining the elevation of advocates to the bench. Expressing conviction in the potential of legal aid services to bring justice within the reach of the indigent in the remote areas, Ravi Prasad Shankar concluded at an optimistic note remarking, “Whatever is needed shall be done.”
Justice Dipak Misra, also the patron-in-chief of the NALSA, described the PLVs as the “devdoot” or ‘divine messengers’ of the judicial machinery in so much as they ensure that the litigants “never feel that they do not belong in this country and that there is no one to serve them.” He also voiced his desire for a rise in the stipend paid to the PLVs in view of their dedication. Additionally, the Chief Justice emphasised the concept of “docket inclusion”, prompting one and all to not hesitate from approaching the courts for the enforcement of their legal rights. Finally, he urged the advocates to not discriminate between legal aid briefs and other briefs and argue the former with more vigour.
The NALSA has promulgated numerous schemes to provide legal assistance to different social groups in accordance with their varied requirements- undertrial prisoners, senior citizens, child welfare and juvenile justice, victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, drug abuse, acid attack, and persons with disability, mental or physical. There has been launched, from 9th November, 2017, a 10-day mass awareness programme ‘Connecting to serve’, including a door-to-door campaign with the support of over 81,000 PLVs. ‘You are not alone’, a specialised programme for senior citizens and a toll free legal aid helpline are other recent initiatives by the NALSA. At present, there almost 2.70 lakh ‘Common Service Centres’ all over the country, fully equipped with computers, through which the scheme of ‘Tele law’ offering pre-litigation advice via video conferencing is being implemented since June, 2017. Of the 5,000 cases referred, advice has been rendered by NALSA lawyers in almost 4,271 matters in a span of only a few months. Moreover, the ‘Nyaya Mitra’ programme has been introduced with a view to focus on the speedy disposal of cases that have been pending for 10 years or longer. And the last but not the least, is the concept of ‘Pro bono lawyering’, making available an online platform for interested advocates to reach out to underprivileged clients in backward areas.
On the occasion of the Legal Services Day, the award for the Best District Legal Services Authority was conferred on the authority of district Narnaul in Haryana. Basanti Gope of Jharkhand was honoured as the Best Para Legal Volunteer. Smt.Thameeza, from DLSA Thiruvananthapuram was elected as the best Para Legal Volunteer of South India