"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
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
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
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
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
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
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