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For long, villagers have been at the wrong ends of justice being unaware of the functioning of courts and also sent on a merry-go-round while trying to procure a document — be it a ration card, birth or caste certificate — from panchayat or block offices.
No more, for the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) is forging ahead with its plan to set up legal aid clinics (LACs) of permanent nature at the taluka level whose function would be akin to that of primary health centres (PHCs) and will meet the basic legal requirements of villagers.
In fact, these LACs, to be manned for 12 hours a day — from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening — by a trained lawyer deputed by the district legal service authority concerned, will function in close proximity to the PHCs.
Panchayats and block offices have been requested to give some office space to the LACs to enable villagers to seek unhindered guidance from the deputed lawyer to help solve their disputes and other requirements like writing an application for a ration card, Antyodaya Anna Yojana card (BPL card) etc, says NALSA member-secretary U Sarath Chandra.
At present there is one PHC covering about 30,000 (20,000 in hilly, desert and difficult terrains) or more population. Many rural dispensaries have been upgraded to create these PHCs. Each PHC has one medical officer, two health assistants (one male and one female), and health workers and supporting staff.
Chandra says the basic motto of NALSA, as defined by its executive chairman and Supreme Court judge Altamas Kabir, is to deliver justice at the rural folk’s doorstep and these LACs would help make people confident about seeking from the authorities what is their due.
The basic purpose of the LACs would be to encourage villagers to settle their inter-personal disputes amicably and not to litigate, he says. As the rural folk have a a lot of inhibition to get in touch with babus in the panchayat and block offices, the lawyer manning the LAC would also help them write applications and suggest ways and means to get the required documents from these offices.
And the free legal advise would be available to one and all, irrespective of their financial status. In the urban areas, the free legal aid under the NALSA and State Legal Aid Authority (SALSA) is limited only to poor people.
“We presume that most of the villagers are poor or handicapped by distance to get proper legal advice. So LACs have been advised to cater to all segments of population in the villages,” Chandra says.
But, finances have been a real difficulty in making LACs operational on a daily basis, says Chandra. So, to start with, the lawyer deputed to hold LAC would go to the taluka office once a week. Gradually the frequency would be increased, he adds