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National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)

This article was submitted by Krishna Sharma from Faculty of Law, University of Delhi for National Legal Writing Competition,2016.

INTRODUCTION

In our society, one of the biggest problems is the lack of awareness amongst people about their rights, and because of this, they are getting exploited continuously and becoming victims of exploitation. The Common man cannot access the Courts because he does not know how to knock its doors. When the ‘common man’ suffers a wrong in this society, instead of approaching the Courts to remedy his grievance, he accepts the wrong as his fate. This is true especially for the poor section of this society as also those who are not legally empowered. They find it easy to justify their problems by dismissing them as their fate rather than approaching Judiciary to protect their rights. This article touches upon a subject which can empower every citizen legally and help bridge the gap between victims and their exploiters.  Precisely, this article is on NALSA.

The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) was constituted under the Legal Service Authorities Act, 1987 (Act), to provide legal aid to the weaker section of the society and to organize Lok adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.[1] The Act was enacted to give a statutory base to legal aid programs throughout the country on a uniform pattern. Surprisingly, this Act was brought into force on 9-11-1995, almost eight years after its enactment. Justice R. N Mishra (the then Chief Justice of India) played a key role in the enforcement of the Act. Chief Justice of India assumed the post of Patron- in-Chief of NALSA which is now Justice T. S. Thakur. The senior–most judge of the Supreme Court assumes the office of the Executive Chairman of NALSA, which is now Justice Anil. R. Dave. NALSA is located at 12/11, Jam Nagar House, New Delhi-110011. A nationwide network has been envisaged under the Act for providing legal aid and assistance. NALSA is the apex body constituted to lay down policies and principles for making free legal services available under the provisions of the Act and to frame most effective and economical schemes for the same.[2] NALSA disburses funds and grants to the State Legal Services Authorities and NGOs for implementing legal aid schemes and programs.

In every state, a State Legal Service Authority (SLSA) is constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of NALSA and to provide legal services to the people. Sections 6, 7, 8 of the Act deal with SLSA and its functions. Section 9, 10 of the Act deal with the District Legal Service Authority and its functions. Sections 11A, 11B of the Act deal with Taluk Legal Service Authority and its functions. These subordinate Authorities are established for the better implementation of policies and principles of the NALSA at the grassroots level.

Before moving ahead and knowing more about NALSA, one need to understand what is ‘free legal Aid’?  One may not believe it, but it’s our “Fundamental Right”. Most of the countries in the world have accepted the scheme of free legal aid. There is no universal definition of the term “legal aid”. The scheme aims to provide ‘free legal assistance’ to the poor. Legal aid strives ‘to ensure that equal justice is made available to the poor, downtrodden and weaker sections of the society’. Free legal Aid in India has a history and was a result of a social movement. It was believed that there was no use of maintaining a judicial machinery if it is beyond the reach of the common citizen when he suffers a wrong. Legal aid enables the needy and poor litigants to obtain justice. In its 14th report, the Law Commission observed that unless some legal provision is made for assisting the poor man for the payment of court fees, lawyer’s fees and other costs of litigation,  it will amount to denying them equality before law and equal protection of law, guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. In Hussainaira khatoon vs. the State of Bihar[3], the Supreme Court recognized the right to free legal aid services as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The Constitutional Directive embodied in Article 39A and Sec. 304 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, also recognizes the right to free legal aid. It may be noted that in civil matters also, Order XXXIII of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 provides for legal aid. The Indian concept of the “free legal aid” is much wider in its scope and application. All types of legal services, including public legal education (legal awareness), legal advice and counseling, public interest litigation (PIL), public interest lawyering, legal clinics in law institutions, lok adalats and settlements through similar alternate dispute resolution forums in the villages, legal mobilization for social justice, paralegal and preventive legal services, law reform initiatives are intended to help the poor and come within the scope of “legal aid”. In order to save the nation, a catalytic role has to be played by legal aid providers in the larger interest of weaker sections Under the Act, NALSA has undertaken various important, effective and appreciable Legal-Aid programs. As they say, “justice delayed is justice denied”. Free legal aid provides timely justice to the weaker and downtrodden sections.

TYPES OF LEGAL SERVICE PROVIDED BY NALSA

Free legal services provided by NALSA / State authority / District authority:

  • Payment of court fee, process fees and all other charges payable or incurred in connection with legal proceedings;
  • Providing Advocates in the legal Proceedings;
  • Obtaining and supplied certified copies of order and other documents in legal proceedings
  • Preparation of appeal, the paper book including painting and translation of documents in legal proceedings.

ELIGIBLE PERSONS FOR GETTING FREE LEGAL SERVICES

Section 12[4] of The Legal Service Authority Act, 1987 states the Criteria for  giving legal services-

  • Women and Children;
  • Member of SC/ ST;
  • Industrial Worker;
  • Victims of mass disaster, violence, flood, drought, earthquake, Industrial disaster;
  • Disabled person;
  • Person in Custody
  • Person whose annual income does not exceed Rs. 1,00, 000 /-

With the new amendment to this section, victims of the terrorist act, person from transgender or belong to the hijra or kinnar Community or is to indeterminate gender by birth, Person suffering from HIV-AIDS, suffering discrimination and other some categories are added to it.

FREE LEGAL SERVICES CAN BE AVAILED FROM

  • Supreme Court Legal Service Committee, 109, Lawyer Chambers, Supreme Court of India, and New Delhi for Supreme Court Cases.
  • State Legal Services Authority, High Court Legal Service Committee situated at High Court Complex in High Court for High Court Cases
  • District Legal Services Authority situated in the District Courts Complex in Every District.

SCHEMES AND MEASURES BY NALSA

The following scheme and measures have envisaged and implemented by the Central Authority- NALSA: –

  • Establishing Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats[5] in all the Districts in the country for disposal of pending matters as well as disputes at pre-litigation stage.
  • The case law of Jurisprudence, 1st semester, faculty of law, University of Delhi.
  • Establishing separate Permanent and Continuous Lok Adalats for Govt. Departments, Statutory Authorities and Public Sector Undertaking for disposal of pending cases as well as disputes at pre- litigation Stage.
  • Accreditation of NGOs for Legal Literacy and Legal Awareness campaign;
  • Appointment of “Legal Aid Counsel” in all the Court of Magistrate in the country;
  • Disposal of cases through Lok Adalats on old pattern;
  • Publicity of legal Aid Schemes and programs to make people aware about legal aid facilities;
  • Emphasis on competent and quality legal Services to the aided persons;
  • Legal aid facilities in jails;
  • Setting up the Counseling and Conciliation Centers in all the Districts in the country.
  • Sensitization of Judicial officers in regard to Legal Services Schemes and programs.

9th November is being celebrated every year by all Legal Services Authorities as “Legal Services Day”. NALSA has been providing and shall continue to provide funds to State Legal Services Authorities for the implementation of the Legal Aid Schemes and Programs but the Infrastructure has to be provided by the State Governments. “Legal Aid Counsel” scheme aims to provide legal assistance to those prisoners who are not in the position to engage their own counsel. “Legal Aid Cells in jails” aims that in jails, the prisoner is provided prompt and efficient legal aid. ‘Counseling and Conciliation Centre’ aims that at bringing about negotiated settlement of disputes between the parties. All the State Legal Services Authorities are taking these steps to establish these centers which would immensely useful for settling legal disputes at pre- litigation stage and would also help legal services functionaries to find out whether person approaching them for legal aid has or not a prima facie case in his favour which is the pre-requisite for grant of legal aid.

LANDMARK CASE LAW

NALSA Vs. Union of India[6] is a landmark decision by Supreme Court of India , which declared transgender people to be ‘third gender’ and affirmed that fundamental rights granted under Constitution of India will be equally applicable to transgender people and gave them the right to self- identification of their gender as male , female or third gender. This judgment is a major step towards gender equality in India. Moreover, the Court also held that because transgender people were treated as socially and economically backward classes, they will be granted reservations in admissions to the educational institutions and jobs. Nalsa efforts were fruitful as they were able to empower this section of our society by bringing their problems in such level and providing them equal right as everyone.

CONCLUSION

Some People might know that they are entitled to get legal aid from the state but don’t know whom to approach for it?  For such people, this article will help in understanding, in a detailed manner, how to obtain legal aid and approach institutions like NALSA which is working in this area. As we know, NALSA is keen to develop and promote a culture of conciliation instead of litigation in the country so that the citizens of this country prefer to resolve their disputes and differences across the table in the spirit of goodwill and brotherhood. NALSA also try to ensure that even the weakest amongst the weak in the country do not suffer injustice arising out of any abrasive act of state or private person; it aims to make the weaker sections of  the society ‘legally empowered’. At last, suffering wrong is not one’s fate anymore. Accessing justice and helping others to access it should be one’s aim. Right to justice and free legal aid is one’s fundamental right which can’t be denied.

[1] www.nalsa.gov.in

[2] www.nalsa.gov.in/Article

[3] AIR 1979 SC1360

[4] For details on section 12, go to CLICK HERE

[5] Lok adalats is the forum where the disputes/ cases pending the Court of law or at pre-litigation are settled/ compromised amicably. The Lok Adalats has been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Under the said act, the award made by the Lok Adalats is deemed to be the decree of a civil Court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal lies before any court against its award

[6] 2012

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