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Legal Aid 2.0 (Nyaya Bandhu And Tele - law service)

"The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and live well."- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Addressing the 18th All India Legal Services Authority Meet on 17/August/2022, Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju announced that Tele-law services will be provided free of charge to all citizens including those who can avail services under Section 12 of Legal Service Authority Act, 1987. Throughout the last five years, almost one crore people have benefited from pro bono legal services rendered (online as well as offline) by Legal services authorities. According to National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) data, more than 1.03 crore people received free legal aid in India between 2017-22 but interestingly nearly 60% of whom were from 2021-22. More than 2 million beneficiaries availed services through online portals.

 Despite all the efforts, when we look at the basket of pending cases in the hon'ble courts it feels that dream is far from our reach. Minister of law and Justice Kiren Rijiju in his speech put emphasis on over 47 million pending cases before courts out of which 70,000 before S.C., 5.8 million before 25 High courts and more than 41 million cases are undertrials before District courts. The timely adjudication of cases in courts is dependent on numerous factors, such as the availability of an adequate number of judges and judicial officers, supporting court staff and physical infrastructure as well as the cooperation of relevant parties.

We cannot repudiate the very fact that the struggle of achieving justice is getting complicated day by day and this conundrum has affinities with the cumbersome and intricate process, illiteracy, financial strain as well as lack of factual knowledge. The absence of any adjudicatory mechanism, or the inadequacy of such a mechanism, is bound to prevent those seeking enforcement of their right to equality before the law and equal protection under the law from seeking redress, thereby negating the guarantee of equality before the law or equal protection under the law and reducing it to a mere teasing illusion. All such efforts by the aggrieved person went in vain if the justice does not meet the requirements of the aggrieved party.

The inability of citizens to access courts or any other adjudicatory mechanism provided for determining rights and obligations is bound to result in denial of the guarantee contained in the very Grundnorm of India i.e., the Constitution. In this article, we would deliberate on the issue of free Legal aid and the indispensable role of the National Legal Service Authority (N.L.S.A.) that could potentially nip the problem in the bud. Article 39A is a Constitutional vow that empowers those who do not have any rostrum to express their grief and agony. Ministry of law and Justice and the Ministry of information and Technology in the joint venture have introduced some of the commendable initiatives that provide tech support to NALSA.

The Indian government's Digital India initiative is also assisting in the revolutionization of the Indian Judiciary but it is still in its infancy in the context of digital growth. Nyaya Bandhu and Tele - Law service is one such online pro bono legal service initiative designed to connect registered lawyers with registered beneficiaries.

This programme provides free legal advice to individuals and organisations that cannot afford legal counsel and/or do not qualify for legal aid. Those in genuine need of legal assistance are thus represented by lawyers for free or at a low cost, providing them with an opportunity to address their legal issues meaningfully. This application allows lawyers and advocates to connect through video conference and track the status of their cases.

How can we mitigate the suffering?

India following independence emerged as the country with the world's longest constitution, promising individual rights and liberties. Despite such a promise, a large portion of India's population finds it extremely difficult to access courts and exercise their rights. We cannot deny that modern-day justice is getting costlier and unfeasible for some classes.

The father of the Indian Grundnorm (Constitution) Dr B.R. Ambedkar was also concerned about the role of justice within a diverse country like us. He once stated, "Rights are real only if they are accompanied by remedies. It is of no use giving rights if the aggrieved person has no legal remedy to which he can resort."

Equality before the law is enshrined under article 14 interpreted as Justice for all while in Article 21 of the Constitution, in multiple cases, Hon'ble S.C. observed that "life" implies not only physical life but also a set of rights that make life worthwhile, there should be no legal or other grounds for holding that denial of "access to justice".

In the words of Justice P.N. Bhagwati, "Legal aid means providing an arrangement in the society so that mission of administration of justice becomes easily accessible and is not out of reach of those who have to resort it for the enforcement."

Digitalization of "39A"

Article 39 -A was introduced by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976. Article 39 A embodied under DPSP (Directive Principle of State Policies) talks duty of the state's duty to provide a proper medium for marginalized sectors of the society for the sake of Constitutional rights and Justice. Access to justice becomes an illusion if the adjudicatory mechanism provided is so expensive that it discourages a disputant from using it.

It promotes the admirable goal of providing legal aid to needy litigants and requires the State to make access to justice affordable for the less fortunate segments of society. In the landmark verdict of Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar Justice Bhagwati emphasised the State's duty to ensure that every citizen's constitutional right to a speedy trial is provided and that the State cannot use the defence of not having enough financial resources to meet the necessary expenditure for improving administrative and judicial apparatus to improve speedy trial.

The ministry of law and Justice in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Technology took the initiative to overhaul the legal aid mechanism and tried to give it a new shape so as to meet the challenges of modern-day affairs.

Nyay Bandhu (Android Application for legal support)

Nyaya Bandhu (Pro Bono Legal Services) was introduced in the year 2017 with the primary goal of establishing a framework for the provision of pro bono legal services across the country. Under Nyaya Bandhu, practising advocates who want to volunteer their time and services are linked with eligible marginalised beneficiaries via mobile technology.

In collaboration with technical partner CSC e-Governance Pvt. Ltd., the Nyaya Bandhu Mobile application (Android/iOS) was developed. Notably, the application has become a part of UMANG a Mobile Application for New-age Governance app, which provides nearly 600 government services to citizens. This application provides assistance to those groups who are covered under section 12 of the Legal Service Authority Act 1987 which includes members of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.

Victims of trafficking in human beings or beggars as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution.

A woman or a child.

A mentally ill or otherwise disabled person.

A person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of a mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster

An industrial workman

In custody, including custody in a protective home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956(104 of 1956); or in a juvenile home within the meaning of clause(j) of Section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (53 of 1986); or in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home within the meaning of clause (g) of Section 2 of the Mental Health Act, 1987(14 of 1987)

Tele - Law Service (Legal Advice on Video Call)

Another service named Tele - Law which works through the Common Services Center, the Department of Justice has collaborated with NALSA and CSC e-Governance Service India Limited to mainstream legal aid to marginalised communities. The use of communications and information technology for the delivery of legal information and advice is referred to as Tele-law.

The video-conferencing infrastructure available at the CSCs would be used for this e-interaction between lawyers and people. The idea behind Tele-Law is to make legal advice more accessible by utilising a panel of lawyers stationed at state Legal Services Authorities (SALSA) and CSC. The project begins with Para-Legal Volunteers stationed at identified 75,000 panchayats connecting citizens with lawyers via video conferencing facilities. "The Tele-Law mobile application (Both Android and iOS) for easy and direct access was also launched in 2021 and is currently available in 22 scheduled languages.

Tele-Law has expanded the reach of legal services to over 20 lakh beneficiaries in just five years by capitalizing on the digital revolution. The Under Trials Review Committee (UTRC). During the previous year, the UTRC held 21,148 meetings, resulting in the release of 31,605 under trials. As per a press release issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice, the 700 empanelled lawyers will now also serve as referral lawyers and help to strengthen the mechanism for dispute avoidance and resolution at the pre-litigation stage.

The Judiciary, Legislature and Executive are the pillars of our democracy and they can only stand erect when they ward off the anguish and grievances of the people. According to the reports, people show reluctance when ask to indulge in session trials to fight for their rights as most of them have notions regarding the complex, expensive and time-consuming procedure of the Indian Judiciary.

This inflicts several repercussions on those who struggle for a day's meal. It feels that Justice is only achievable to those who can afford the clumsy course of Justice. But the target is still achievable by the mean of technology and grass root support in the bid to achieve the goal N.L.S.A. already has set a laudable Millstone of 6.28 million beneficiaries in the year 2021 - 22 (April - March) interestingly out of which more than 2 million beneficiaries availed services via online portals.

In a path breaking decision on 17/August/2022, Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju announced that the Tele-law services will be made free of cost for all the citizens. Previously it costs around 30/- rupees for one video conferencing between client and advocate. Modernization of the Judicial framework is a need of the hour whereas we must not undermine the importance of time friendly as well as pocket-friendly redressal of disputes that infringed people to enjoy rights. Technology in this era is a potential tool that could help us to achieve the goals we dreamed of.

Written By: Y.S. Ghatpande

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