While the preamble of the Indian Constitution promises to guarantee social, economic and political justice to all citizens, Article 39 (A) of the Constitution of India provides free legal aid for the poor and most vulnerable. weakest members of society, in order to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity. In addition, Articles 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution also oblige the State to guarantee equality before the law. Thus, the Constitution of India enshrines justice as the very basis of democracy in India.
To achieve the aims of the Constitution of India, the former state of J&K empties Govt. Ordinance No. 1223 of 26.10.1987 constituted a council called J&K State Legal Aid and Advice Board to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of the community. However, in 1997, the J&K State Legal Aid and Advice Board was repealed by the Jammu and Kashmir Legal Services Authorities Act 1997, which provided for the establishment of the Legal Services Authority. State Legal Services, High Court Legal Services Committee, District Legal Services Authorities and Tehsil Legal. Service committees responsible for providing free and competent legal services to the weakest sections of society and for ensuring that opportunities for obtaining justice are not denied to any citizen on account of economic or other disability, and to organize Lok Adalats to ensure that the functioning of the judicial system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity. In August 2019, Parliament passed the J&K Reorganization Act 2019, which came into force on 30.10.2019, by which the state of J&K was divided into two union territories called UT of J&K and UT of Ladakh. Under the same legislation, the J&K Legal Services Authorities Act 1997 was repealed and the Legal Services Authorities (Central Law) Act 1987 came into force in J&K and Ladakh UTs. J&K UT incorporated the State Legal Services Authority by Notice dated December 2, 2019.
The Legal Services Authorities Act is the pioneer act to achieve the lofty aims of the Constitution of India and other laws. The guarantee of equal justice is meaningless if the poor, the illiterate or the weak cannot claim their rights because of their poverty, illiteracy or weakness. Therefore, the first duty of all stakeholders associated with legal service institutions is to empower the weaker sections of society by removing barriers to access to justice.
J&K Legal Services Authority under the patronage of Justice Pankaj Mithal, Chief Justice, High Court of J&K and Ladakh and Chief Patron J&K Legal Services Authority and the dynamic leadership of Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey, Executive Chairman, J&K Legal Services Authority is regularly on its progressive march towards realizing the avowed goals of the constitution to provide free and competent legal services to the weakest sections of society.
Many measures, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, have been taken to reach the target beneficiaries. During the year 2021, J&K Legal Services Authority organized 4 National Lok Adalats and 35 Regular Lok Adalats for quick and amicable settlement of disputes between parties. In these Lok Adalats, up to 1,75,009 cases were processed and an amount of Rs. 294.76 cr. was paid as compensation. J&K Legal Services Authority provided court-based legal assistance to 8824 people from marginalized sections of society by providing free legal assistance. No less than 5,017 awareness camps for the education of the general public were organized for the benefit of 1,79,758 people.
Although the responsibility for disaster management lies primarily with the state, legal service institutions have always been at the forefront in coordinating with the administration to reach disaster victims. Upon learning of cloud bursts and flash floods in Kishtwar and Bandipora districts of J&K in the month of July 2021, Kishtwar and Bandipora DLSAs formed grassroots groups, which responded on the spot to assist victims of the the bursting of clouds.
In an effort to provide legal services to the poor and marginalized, the J&K Legal Services Authority has established 277 legal aid clinics in J&K UT almost on the model of primary health centers. These include 14 legal aid clinics in all of J&K’s UT prisons. Legal aid clinics are regularly visited by panel attorneys and PLVs for legal assistance to the needy, including inmates. J&K Legal Services Authority has constituted 690 lawyers and hired 549 PLVs to provide legal assistance to marginalized sections. Apart from this, 190 Legal Literacy Clubs have been established in various schools and colleges in UT of J&K to strengthen the legal literacy of students.
J&K Legal Services Authority is vigorously engaged in legal awareness through various modes, including through electronic media in a program called “Kanoon aur insaaf ki baat”. The secretaries of the DLSAs give lectures in this program on different subjects of legal importance. In 2021, forty (40) lectures were delivered. The J&K Legal Services Authority was quick to respond to seniors’ concerns. It manages the affairs of 4 day care centers and recreation centers for the elderly in Srinagar, Jammu, Kathua and Samba.
In order to provide relief to people filing cases in the High Court via the electronic mode, J&K Legal Services Authority has established 14 Vidhik Seva Kendras, one each in the High Court wing of Jammu and Srinagar and remaining at the district headquarters . The process of establishing Vidhik Seva Kendras in the remaining 08 districts is also ongoing.
Other than that, two helplines with no. 1516 and 15100 (NALSA Helpline) are operated by J&K Legal Services Authority to deal quickly with issues of the needy. Although much has been done to provide legal assistance to the needy, much more needs to be done. I conclude with the famous lines of Robert Frost:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
(The author is Member Secretary, J&K Legal Services Authority).