In an unprecedented collaboration, various National Law Schools have come together to set up a legal aid clinic, namely Parichay, with an aim to provide legal assistance to persons excluded from the National Register of Citizens- Assam (NRC).
The final list of NRC, which was published on August 31, had excluded over 19 lakh persons (19,06,657) out of 3.3 crore applicants, and the only recourse they have now is to appeal against such exclusions before the Foreigners Tribunals, within 120 days from receipt of the rejection order. However, most of these persons are economically deprived, having no means to approach the courts. Hence, the legal aid clinic.
In this view, Professor (Dr.) Faizan Mustafa, VC of NALSAR was quoted saying, "After the NRC absence of effective legal aid would mean that many persons would be rendered stateless without due process. An innovative collaboration like Parichay is essential to prevent such a humanitarian crisis".
Adding to this, Dr. N.K. Chakrabarti, VC of NUJS said, "While the Assam government has assured that legal aid will be provided to all, an exercise of this scale requires the participation of law schools and civil society."
Parichay was founded by Anup Surendranath, Assistant Professor of Law at NLU-D; M. Mohsin Alam Bhat, Assistant Professor of Law at JGLS; and Darshana Mitra, lawyer and researcher based in Kolkata.
As of now, 5 law schools viz. National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam, West Bengal National University of Juridical Science Kolkata, NALSAR Hyderabad, National Law University Delhi, and National Law University Odisha have come together while other law schools are also in the process of formalizing their collaboration. Each collaborating university has appointed a faculty advisor who will coordinate with Parichay on behalf of the university.
Introducing this one of a kind association, Professor (Dr.) JS Patil, Vice Chancellor of NLUJAA said,
"This is a historically unprecedented collaboration between law schools in India, and we believe that this is necessary to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to legal representation."
In a press release issued by Parichay itself, the collaboration explained its structure and functions. It clarified that it will be stationed in Guwahati and will work with teams of student volunteers across the country. It said,
"The clinic will function as a clearinghouse of litigation and research assistance for lawyers filing appeals against exclusion from the NRC.
Parichay will assist lawyers in drafting appeals, conduct research on pertinent questions of the law, assist in training lawyers and paralegals, and generate documentation on the functioning of Foreigners' Tribunals. Law students will work with lawyers to ensure that they are able to file effective appeals before the Foreigners' Tribunals."
Currently, the collaboration is inviting applications from students who will be selected through a selection process to constitute a core team and a pool of volunteers for research and drafting and will start working on research and appeals from mid-October. The teams will be funded by the collaborating law schools from within their legal aid budgets.
Interestingly, Parichay will also conduct documentation of the NRC exercise and will generate policy recommendations that can inform legal and policy discourse on citizenship laws in India. Commenting on this, Professor (Dr.) Ranbir Singh, VC of NLU-D said,
"As universities, we have access to resources and networks that can and should be mobilized towards building jurisprudence on one of the most important questions of constitutional and public law faced by the country today, i.e., who is an Indian citizen".
Lastly, Professor (Dr.) Srikrishna Deva Rao, VC of NLU-O concluded,
"Citizenship grants an individual identity in the eyes of the state, and allows them to enjoy other human rights. Deprivation of citizenship, therefore, can result in further deprivation of an individual's basic human rights."