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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support

Screening of a beautiful short film by Prakash Jha “Nyaye Sab Ke Liye”, carrying the essence of what the legal service authorities stand for, set the tone for a ceremony to mark the inauguration in Punjab, Haryana and UT Chandigarh of ‘Legal Assistance Establishments’, one stop facilities for providing free legal information and assistance to under trials and convicts in jails, on Sunday.

After formally inaugurating these establishments in the premises of the legal services authorities in Mohali, Panchkula and Chandigarh, Justice Dipak Misra, Judge of the Supreme Court of India and Executive Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), was the chief guest at this ceremony held at the Chandigarh Judicial Academy. It was attended among others by Justice Shiavax Jal Vazifdar, Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Patron-in-Chief of the legal service authorities of Punjab, Haryana and UT Chandigarh, other judges of the high court, secretaries of state legal service authorities, empanelled lawyers to the authorities and paralegal volunteers.

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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PHOTOS BY: LIFE IN CHANDIGARH

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The background theme song of the short film highlighted the key elements of the thought process behind the legal service authority movement like “Nyaye khudd chaupalon tak ayega” and “Ek muthi aasmaan parr haq hamara bhi hai”. Justice Misra and Justice Vazifdar in their addresses to the gathering also emphasised the need for all stakeholders to work in mission mode so that the targeted population truly benefitted, the way it was planned.

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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But the audience feedback, especially from paralegal volunteers, during the brief 10-minute window allowed, did not leave the gathering in any doubt that the ground realities were far from adequate to generate optimum results. Among the issues highlighted by these paralegal volunteers, especially from Haryana, was that the honorarium of Rs 250 for each case dealt by them was too less and needed to be enhanced, and infrastructure provided to them for dealing with distant cases was inadequate to the extent that they could not find a place to even sit. 

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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The women behind the legal luminaries

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There was also a demand for adequately rewarding those who were doing good work so that their morale could be boosted. More ground level informative and motivational camps for the paralegal volunteers and the general public, especially the uneducated and the poor, were also suggested. A volunteer from Amritsar highlighted the need for getting the facility of vehicle to travel to distant places all 30 days a month, instead of 15 days as on now, and facility of an ambulance to ferry abandoned mentally challenged people to hospital or pingalwara. 

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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One volunteer even challenged the rationale behind giving free legal service to habitual offenders, and those involved in heinous crimes like rape, causing a brief commotion in the gathering. 

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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To this Justice SS Saron, Judge of the high court and Executive chairman of the Punjab Legal Services Authority, replied that while associated with the legal service authority one cannot be judgemental. We are bound to provide legal aid to all those needing it. We take it that till found guilty, every person, charged with any offence, is innocent, and he needs to be provided legal aid. It is for the courts to decide whether a person is guilty or not guilty, he asserted.

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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In his address earlier, Justice Saron appreciated the special personal efforts made by Justice Vazifdar to rehabilitate an acid attack woman survivor, who, apart from getting her statutory entitlement of compensation, was ushered in as a paralegal volunteer. Gestures like these can go a long way in providing a new direction to women, he added.

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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Justice Vazifdar in his submission, made light of the appreciation, saying in a lighter vein that one of the advantages of being a Chief Justice is you get credit for some things others may have done. Dwelling on the history of providing legal aid in the country, he said the concept was enshrined in the Constitution. But credit must go to “two legends” of the legal fraternity, Justice VR Krishna Iyer and Justice PN Bhagwati, former Chief Justice of India, for their untiring efforts to make legal services authority a reality. He called for periodic upgradation, review and improvement of systems to keep them relevant to the times.

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Undertrials, Convicts Get One Stop Free Legal Support, Lifeinchd

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Speaking in chaste Hindi, interspersed with English, and quoting profusely from episodes in Indian mythology, Justice Misra, said those needing legal assistance may at times resign themselves to their fate, but they need to be motivated by “our Captains” – the paralegal volunteers  – to keep doing “pursharth”, because the “karm” will eventually shape your “bhagya”. 

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Here’s wishing success to all well meaning initiatives of the National and State legal services authorities.  

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