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Govt flags concerns over legal aid programmes in country

Supreme Court

New Delhi : Government today flagged concerns regarding legal aid programmes, such as inability to meet the high cost of litigation, and promised to do its bit like releasing cess collected to extend free legal assistance to workers of unorganised sector.

Addressing a gathering here in the presence of Chief Justice of India designate Justice T S Thakur, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda said he would like to “point out certain concerns” about the legal services programme in the country.

“First and foremost concern and barrier to access to justice is that of economic barrier. Cost of litigation consisting of cost of advocacy and court fee is a major obstacle for majority of the litigants in India,” he said.

He pointed out that that the fees charged by leading advocates in the Supreme Court, high courts as well in the district level courts becomes unaffordable for a large section of society.

“This problem gets pronounced when the poor litigant is pitted against a very rich and mighty opponent. In such scenarios, the result of the adjudication might go adverse to the poor litigant,” he said.

Before the minister spoke, Justice Thakur, who is executive chairman of National Legal Service Authority, pointed out that crores of rupees collected as cess for the unorganised sector were lying in the banks unutilised.

The fund is meant to extend legal aid to such workers who cannot afford the cost of litigation.

“There is a scheme for unorganised (labour) sector. There are 46 crore people working in unorganised sector out which 14 crore are women. We have found that huge amounts have been collected. Rs 3,000 crore has been collected in Karnataka as cess for unorganised sector.

“In Punjab, Rs 1,500 crore had been collected. Where is that money? That money is lying in banks and there is likelihood of that amount being used in purposes other than unorganised sector. There are schemes but those schemes have not been implemented. Let that money be spent on those schemes,” Justice Thakur said.

Responding to the issue, Gowda assured him that government will do its bit to ensure that the funds are released.

Supreme Court judge Justice Anil R Dave asked the NGOs to identify people who need legal aid services.

“We don’t do our work only in court but we also go out and do work…. Our function is to identify the people who need legal service programmes and cannot come to us.

“We need to do something for the people suffering injustice. I am hopeful that the schemes implemented would benefit the people,” he said on the sidelines of a workshop organised by NALSA to train para legal volunteers.

The Law Minister further said there was a need to assess effectiveness of the legal services programme.

“Out of 2.6 crore litigations pending across the country, the data on total number of litigants and total number of litigants who are eligible for legal aid must be available readily.

“Of the total number of litigants eligible for legal aid services, how many are actually provided with legal aid services and what is the gap existing as on today? We must also know that over a period of time, are we able to bring down this gap or this gap is growing.  This may require an empirical study,” the law minister said.

Pointing out towards the findings and recommendations of a study conducted by UNDP on provision of legal services in India in five major states, he said there was a need of voluntary organisations to actively participate in legal awareness programmes.

Gowda said that many senior advocates do volunteer for the legal aid services but some of them are entrusted with this work either by the court or by the legal services authority.

“They do not effectively handle the case as these cases are not economically attractive for them. As a result of this, an impression in the minds of the public has been created that the legal aid services provided in certain parts of the country are below par. This is a major challenge, and we must debate and come out with creative solutions,” he said.

The Law Minister also commended National Legal Services Authority’s effort in taking up the cause of undertrial prisoners ‘seriously’ and it making efforts to see that those who have served more than 50 per cent of the actual sentence period as undertrial prisoners are assisted by legal services authorities to secure bail.

“The legal services programme must be region specific as well as they should be chalked out by taking into consideration the major barriers or hurdles in access to justice and the need for specific legal services.

“Area specific legal services programme will have to be devised by  District and Taluka legal services authorities by taking into consideration the type of litigation and the type of barriers to the access to justice prevailing in that area,” the law minister said.
Besides the law minister, Delhi High Court Chief Justice G Rohini and High Court judge Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed also spoke on the occasion.

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