The Indian constitution decrees that all citizens are equal and should not be discriminated on the basis of their social and economic status. The foundational base of any democratic society rests on the principle of egalitarianism, which should be a practiced reality and not a mere theoretical concept. The successful outcome of an egalitarian setup is based on the premise that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection of the law, as has been enshrined in Article 14 of the constitution.
The State is mandated to provide equal opportunities for all citizens and promote the nobler tenet of justice under Article 39A. The State is also obligated to aid vulnerable sections of the society who are economically deprived and impeded by a disability to access free legal aid through the formulation of an appropriate legislation or scheme.
With a view to provide weaker sections of the society universal access to legal services and lend a statutory framework to varied legal aid schemes in India, the government originated the Legal Services Authorities Act. To ensure the broader outreach and successful implementation of various legal services, the central government constituted the National Legal Services Authorities (NALSA). The body has been entrusted with the task of enacting the stipulated propositions and policies for extending legal schemes to the concerned beneficiaries. Allocation of funds and grants to State Legal Services Authorities and NGOs for the enablement of legal aid programs also forms a key task of NALSA.
Conceptualised as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, Lok Adalats have emerged as credible forums for settling pending cases or those which are in a pre-litigation stage. They have been empowered with statutory powers under the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act. People from the poorer strata of society who are encumbered in their efforts to seek justice on account of complex legal procedures can approach the Lok Adalats, whose verdicts are deemed decrees of a civil court. Decisions passed by the Lok Adalats are considered binding, and though no provision exists for filing an appeal against the award, participants are at liberty to initiate litigation in an appropriate court of law.
Spreading awareness about legal rights, especially among the poorer sections of society, remains the key catalyst in expediting access to justice. NGOs can play a key role in enlightening poor and uneducated people about their legal rights and providing information on various government schemes by holding group camps, meetings and training sessions. Legal aid clinics performing the task of “primary assistance centers” can extend help in the understanding of simple legal notices, writing them and provide advice to solve problems. Professional lawyers can also be persuaded to be present at such clinics and provide crucial legal counsel to people.
As part of fulfilling their corporate social responsibility commitments, top-tier law firms also act in a pro bono manner and take up cases without charging their regular fees or charge a nominal amount from their clients. The top legal talent of the country can help affected litigants from deprived sections of society access the legal route to redress their grievances. Online forums have also emerged as credible platforms to provide legal advice and assistance to the queries of people.
The right to justice forms an intrinsic and indispensable corollary of the right to live. The legal empowerment of the masses and the creation of a free and fair justice delivery system remain key to ensure that justice and legal succor does not remain an exclusive realm of a privileged few but rather becomes an inclusive reality for a major chunk of the population.
Chander Verma is founder and CEO of Plunes.com