The coronavirus pandemic has brought many new problems and challenges for the justice delivery system in the country and the role of legal aid institutions has become all the more important during such times, said Justice N. V. Ramana, Supreme Court judge and Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), while inaugurating the Conference Hall of Bihar State Legal Services Authority on digital platform.
He started his speech with pranam – “Aap sabka swagat hai. Aap Sabko Ganesh Chaturthi Ki Subh Kaam-na-ei, Aasha hai ki aap sabhi log Covid-19 Mei Apna Khyaal Rakh Rahe Honge“. He expressed his happiness over sharing of the dais “with my esteemed brothers Justice Navin Sinha, Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh.
Justice Ramana said the NALSA is constantly striving to ensure that justice is accessible in such unprecedented times.
In order to ameliorate the situation, a broad range of legal services have to be provided to the needy, including victims of domestic violence, daily wagers, tenants, under trials, convicts and migrants, he said while inaugurating the Conference Hall of Bihar State Legal Services Authority on digital platform.
Talking about the Role of Legal Services Authorities during the Pandemic, Justice Ramana said the coronavirus outbreak has “presented before us novel justice needs”.
The already existing issues have become more apparent in terms of rising inequities, he said, adding the brunt of the pandemic has been faced by all sections of the society and the vulnerable sections are the most affected.
The prevailing pandemic has forced governments across the globe to enforce various emergency measures, the Supreme Court judge noted and added that as an unwanted consequence, these emergency measures have led to the limitations on movement of people and other restrictions.
“This outbreak has brought many new problems and challenges for the justice delivery system,” he said.
He said as a result of the pandemic, people’s lives have changed drastically.
“Social stigma with respect to the disease has led to a number of issues such as forced evictions of frontline workers, families of Covid patients, and even of people who are merely suspected of having the illness.
“People have lost their livelihood. With the loss of their livelihood, migrant workers had to return to their villages and faced multiple issues such as social boycotts. Forced isolation has led to an increase in domestic violence cases. Many victims are finding themselves isolated in violent homes, without access to resources, friends or family,” Justice Ramana said.
Speaking about the role that NALSA has been performing during these difficult times, he referred to the introduction of E-Lok Adalat.
A well-organized digital solution in the form of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), a combination of technology and ADR, will give new momentum to Lok Adalats in India, the Supreme Court judge said.
“However, the crucial challenge lies in popularizing the ideas of E-Lok Adalat at the grassroots level, and take steps to provide access in those areas where people do not have the facility of video-conferencing,” he underlined.
“Another mechanism, relates to ensuring that when victims cannot reach us, we will remain accessible to them,” he said.
“Acknowledging the urgency of the situation, we are working hand in hand with One Stop Centres (OSCs), intending to provide holistic legal services to the victims through the Legal Services Authorities.
“The focus has been to provide legal assistance as well as counselling services to victims and the needy. We have also provided legal assistance by female Panel Lawyers in every district through the telephone. Legal Services Authorities, in the period from 24th March to 30th June, 2020 dealt with 3,689 cases relating to domestic violence,” he said.
The Legal Services Authorities received numerous grievances relating to denial of wages. As many as 32,782 of cases were received by the Legal Services institutions. The plight of the migrants did not go unnoticed by the Legal Services Authorities, assistance was provided to 57, 79,546 migrants in coordination with the District Administration in terms of transit, food, and medical aid.
The Legal Services Authorities have ensured that justice is not denied to any individual due to lack of legal representation, he said.
Legal Services Authorities across the country have evolved procedures to ensure implementation of directions for easing pressure on prisons. SLSAs have actively assisted High Powered Committees identify and complete the necessary formalities for the release of prisoners, both undertrials and convicts, during the pandemic, Justice Ramana said.
Giving details, he said Legal Services Authorities provided legal assistance to 22,024 under trial prisoners during trial. Moreover, representation has been provided to 19, 184 persons at the remand stage, wherein 8,779 bail applications have been filed for such persons at the remand stage out of which 6, 113 applications have been allowed. Convicted prisoners were also provided legal assistance, 513 convicts were assisted in filing applications for parole/furlough.
The Legal Service Authorities with the aid of the National Legal Aid helpline and State Legal Aid helpline have effectively provided legal advice and assistance in 6,26,369 cases. Online Lok Adalats, are being organized by legal Services Authorities. In order to ensure easy accessibility, we must ensure at all times that Toll free national Legal Helpline 15100 should remain fully functional so that no person in need of justice is denied the same.
“Now, there is enormous pressure to maintain austerity, increase efficiency and yet deliver quality legal service while working remotely. Here technology has played a critical role in this transformation and the Legal Services Authority has been trying to keep up with the changing times by using technology as its strongest aide,” Justice Ramana said.
He said a number of webinars have been conducted by the Legal Services Authorities on numerous legal topics in order to enhance the knowledge of the masses, critical for enhancing access to justice.
The authorities held around 1,319 legal awareness programmes on legal aid through digital platforms. The Legal Services Authorities have further carried out legal awareness programmes through radio including community radio and television. 93 programmes were conducted through radio while 79 were conducted through T.V. Besides, 2,573 programmes were conducted through social media tools including YouTube.
“I take this opportunity to appreciate the efforts put in by various stakeholders — the legal services authorities, the panel lawyers and the paralegal volunteers for showing immense flexibility and determination for the cause of justice even during such difficult times. Every intervention is a clear indication of the important position you hold in our justice delivery system,” he said.
“I earnestly hope that the momentum continues and NALSA along with the entire network of Legal Service Authorities continue to display utmost passion and vigour as well as, experiment in an innovative manner so as to grow to its fullest extent possible,” he added.
“As a roadmap for the future, the Legal Services Authorities are focused on developing an accessible mechanism to redress violation of rights and empowering the people through legal services and legal awareness,” the Justice said.
He expressed happiness over sharing of the dais “with my esteemed brothers Justice Navin Sinha, Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh.
He said Justice Navin Sinha, as a Judge of the Patna High Court and the Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan High Courts, has contributed immensely to the legal aid movement with his rich experience.
“During his tenure in the Patna High Court, he initiated an empirical study of jails in Bihar to improve the condition of prisoners, which was the first of its kind in the country,” Justice Ramana said.
“Justice Sanjay Karol, the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court and Patron-in-Chief of the Bihar State Legal Services Authority, as one of the most dynamic Chief Justices, has been attempting to bring several reforms to streamline the subordinate judiciary in the State of Bihar. I appreciate his sincere hard work. I was told that his sincerity and efforts are inspiring the judiciary of Bihar,” he added.
“Justice Dinesh Kumar, the senior most judge of the Patna High Court has been working hard to extend legal aid to the needy people in the State. I sincerely appreciate his hard work and enthusiasm in this field,” the Supreme Court judge said.
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The conference hall, constructed over an area of 5521 square feet, has a seating capacity of more than 200 people. Around Rs 2.40 crores were utilized in preparing this hall, which will be used to conduct capacity building and other legal services programmes, he said.
-India Legal Bureau