Justice to all-distant dreams
India is a sovereign , repuplic and democratic country which ensures through its constitution the principle of equality to all its citizens (to some aspects non-citizens also) without any discrimination based on any adverse criteria. The preamble to the constitution envisages social, economic and political justice to all. But still even after fifty seven years of independence, the practical application of the principle of equality is not found to all the classes of people in the society because of their adverse socio-economic and geographical backgrounds. About 3/4 of the total population of our country are not aware of their constitutional and legal rights because of their ignorance, poverty and other disabilities. Consequently, although they often become the victims of different types of circumstances and exploitation cannot reach the door of justice for getting appropriate relief.
`Legal Aid' as a concept is not something new in our legal system. It is already therein in the preamble which is also known as the philosophy of the Indian constitution. However, a direct and visible provision i.e article 39-A was incorporated in the constitution (vide the Constitution 42nd Amendment act, 1976) which provides that the state shall secure the operation of the legal system to promote justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or scheme or in any other way, to ensure that opportunity for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.Apart from the above, there are statutory provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Procedure Code in this regard. Section 304 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides for legal aid to the accused person at the state expenses in certain cases. According to this provision, a Court of Session will assign a pleader in favour of the accused who is unable to engage the same. Further, the State Government has the power to direct the application of this provision in relation to any class of cases before any other court in the state.
Order XXXIII of the C.P.C. as amended provides for filing of suits by indigent persons commonly known as pauper suit. Under this provision if a person does not have sufficient means to pay the prescribed fee for the plaint or if he is not entitled to property worth Rs. 1,000/- can make an application stating the facts and on this he is entitled to have a pleader on his behalf.
Legal aid makes great effort to ensure the solemn promise of the constitution to full legal aid in its letter and spirit and equal Justice to poor, and downtrodden class of the society. To this end, free legal aid and speedy trial have also been declared as fundamental rights under Article 21 of our constitution. In M.H.Hoskot Vs. State of Maharastra Air 1978 SC 1548 and Hussainara Khatoon Vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, Air 1979 SC 1369 the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India held that the State is under a duty to provide a lawyer to a poor person and it must pay to the lawyer his fees as prescribed by the court.
Perhaps, to honour the constitutional mandate and the observation of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in the above mentioned cases, the parliament of India, enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act 1989 (Act) to provide free legal services to eligible persons and for organizing `Lok Adalats' to secure quick justice at cheaper costs. The Act provides for a National Legal Services Authority at the centre, State Legal Services Authority at the State concerned and District Legal Services Authorities in each districts and they are in function. Section 12 of the Act reads as:-
Every person who has to file or defend a case shall be entitled to legal services under the Act if that person is-
(a) A member of scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. (b) A victim of trafficking in human being or beggar as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution.(c) A woman or a child.(d) A mentally ill or other disable person.(e) A person under circumstances of undeserved want such as being a victim of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, and flood, drought or industrial disaster, or (f) An industrial workman, or(g) In custody, including in a protection home, or in a juvenile home or in a psychiatric nursing home. (h) A person whose annual income is less than Rs. 25,000/- (Rs. 50,000/- in respect of cases pending or to be filed before the Supreme court).
Apart from the benefit of legal aid, the Act provides for the amicable settlement of the disputes known as Lok Adalat, a praise worthy step to promote social justice. Upto 30th June, 2004 2,23,159 Lok Adalats have been held all over the country and therein 1,63,31,357 cases have been settled. More than 4751 crores of rupees were distributed by way of compensation. 66,73,240 persons have been benefited through Legal Aid Service.
In spite of all these efforts such as speedy and quality disposal by the regular courts and amicable settlements through Lok Adalats and Arbitration it is smelled that the people wants more quick and speedier justice. The problem can be focused in two ways : Firstly, the number of judges comparing to the people in our country are less than that ought to be. The law Commission in its 120th Report (1987) stated that the number of judges per million population in India was 10.5 (which is now said to have gone up between 12 and 13 per million) which is the lowest in the world. The Hon'ble Supreme court of India in the case of All India Judges Association (2002) 4 SCC 247 desired the number of judges to be increased to fifty per million in a phased manner. Besides, the allocation of fund during the Tenth Plan (2202-2007) is Rs. 700 crores which is 0.078 % of the total plan outlay of Rs. 8,93,183 crores. This being the actual position is it possible for the judiciary to take the responsibility of rendering justice to the poor Indians alone?
Secondly, majority of our common people are illiterate for which they are ignorant about their legal benefit. Some of them are under privileged due to political or biological factors. I am sure that there are so many provisions for free legal aid particularly in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is not known to those for whom the Act/s has been enacted. Therefore the Government must take appropriate step to create awareness among the people so that they can get the benefit of the scheme. The educational institutions particularly the Law Colleges, the lawyers, publicly spirited persons and the Non-Governmental Organization should come forward to take the burden for spreading the messages to the rural needy-downtrodden people. It should not be confined to the four corners of the cities and towns