M K Sharma
While the Preamble to the Indian Constitution promises to secure to all citizens, Justice-social, economic and political, Article 39(A) of the Constitution of India provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of the society, to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity. Additionally, Articles 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution also make it obligatory for the state to ensure equality before law. Thus, Constitution of India enshrines Justice as the very basis of democracy in India.
To achieve the objectives of the Constitution of India, the erstwhile state of J&K vide Govt. Order No. 1223 dated 26.10.1987, constituted a board called J&K State Legal Aid and Advice Board for providing free legal services to the weaker sections of the community. However, in the year 1997, the J&K State Legal Aid and Advice Board was repealed by Jammu and Kashmir Legal Services Authorities Act 1997, which provided for establishment of State Legal Services Authority, High Court Legal Services Committee, District Legal Services Authorities and Tehsil Legal Services Committees to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to ensure that the operation of the Legal System promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunities. In August 2019, the Parliament passed the J&K Reorganization Act 2019, which came into force on 30.10.2019, by which the state of J&K was bifurcated into two Union Territories called UT of J&K and UT of Ladakh. By virtue of the same legislation, J&K Legal Services Authorities Act, 1997 was repealed and the Legal Services Authority Act 1987 (Central Act) came into force in the UT’s of J&K and Ladakh. The UT of J&K has constituted the State Legal Services Authority vide notification dated 2nd of December, 2019.
The Legal Services Authorities Act is the pioneer enactment to achieve the noble objectives of the Constitution of India and other laws. The guarantee of equal justice is meaningless if the poor or the illiterate or the weak persons cannot enforce their rights because of their poverty, illiteracy or weakness. Therefore, the first and foremost duty of all the stakeholders associated with legal services institutions is to empower the weaker sections of the 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 Patron-in-Chief J&K Legal Services Authority and the dynamic leadership of Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey, Executive Chairman, J&K Legal Services Authority is steadily on its progressive march of realizing the avowed constitution goals aimed at providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Numerous steps, in implementation of the provisions of the Constitution have been taken to reach out to the target beneficiaries. During the year 2021, J&K Legal Services Authority organized 4 National Lok Adalats and 35 Regular Lok Adalats for speedy and amicable settlement of disputes between the parties. In these Lok Adalats as many as 1,75,009 cases were disposed of and an amount of Rs. 294.76 cr. was settled as compensation. J&K Legal Services Authority provided court based legal assistance to 8824 people belonging to marginalized sections of society by providing free legal assistance. As many as 5,017 awareness camps for educating the public in general were organized benefitting 1,79,758 people.
Though the responsibility of managing disasters primarily lies upon the State but the Legal Services Institutions had always been in the forefront to coordinate with the administration to reach out to the victims of disaster. On coming to know about the cloud bursts and flash floods in Kishtwar and Bandipora districts of J&K in the month of July 2021, the DLSAs Kishtwar and Bandipora constituted core groups, who reached on spot to help the victims of the cloud burst.
With the aim to provide legal services to the poor and marginalized, the J&K Legal Services Authority has established 277 Legal Aid Clinics in UT of J&K almost on the lines of Primary Health Centers. These include 14 Legal Aid Clinics in all the jails of UT of J&K. The Legal Aid Clinics are regularly visited by the Panel Lawyers and PLVs for legal assistance to the needy including the jail inmates. J&K Legal Services Authority has empanelled 690 lawyers and have engaged 549 PLVs for providing legal assistance to the marginalized sections. Apart this, 190 legal literacy clubs have been established in various schools and colleges across the UT of J&K to boost legal literacy amongst the students.
J&K Legal Services Authority is vigorously engaged in creating legal awareness by different modes including through electronic media in a program entitled ” Kanoon aur insaaf ki baat”. The Secretaries of DLSAs deliver talks in this programme on different topics of legal importance. In the year 2021, Forty (40) talks were delivered. The J&K Legal Services Authority has not lagged behind in addressing the concerns of senior citizens. It is managing the affairs of 4 Day Care and Recreation Centers for senior citizens at Srinagar, Jammu, Kathua and Samba.
In order to provide relief to the people in filing cases in the High Court through e-mode, J&K Legal Services Authority has established 14 Vidhik Seva Kendras, including one each in the High Court wing of Jammu and Srinagar and remaining at district headquarters. The process of establishing Vidhik Seva Kendras in the remaining 08 districts is also underway.
Apart this, two helplines with no’s. 1516 and 15100 (NALSA helpline) are manned by J&K Legal Services Authority for addressing the issues of the needy promptly. Though a lot has been done to provide legal assistance to the needy but much still remains 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).
M K Sharma