Legal aid - a rightful aid
The foundation of legal aid is well entrenched and defined in the legal services authorities act (LSAA) but very few people are actually aware of it.
Kesava Mohan. -- Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam
Section 39A of the Constitution states that "The state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall in particular provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities."
Taking a cue from this constitutional dictum, Kesava Mohan, a US-born Indian, embarked on a journey to his ancestral hometown of Visakhapatnam to educate the ignorant and the less informed that a system prevails to help the disadvantaged who are not in a position to pay the legal charges to secure justice.
Mohan, a final year undergraduate student with specialisation in global justice from the Duke University of North Carolina, studied the Constitution and legal procedures before he set sail for this port city. He closely examined the legal process by attending the District Court proceedings and by interacting with various advocates, sub-judges and NGOs.
The study revealed that though the foundation of such aid is well entrenched and defined in the Legal Services Authorities Act (LSAA), very few people are actually aware of it. To make his effort wholesome he printed over 5,000 pamphlets with all the necessary details and distributed them in the District Court.
A few basic details are published along with this article.
International law and human rights are the two subjects that are close to his heart. Though he plans to do his Ph.D. from a reputed university in the US he is also keen to take up the cause of human rights simultaneously with his practice. He believes that there is a huge gap between acceptance and implementation of human rights policies even in a developed nation like the US.
"Things may look rosy form outside but in the US, child labour, illegal immigrant labourers and cheap labour in the countryside are major human rights problem. Over 35 million Americans do not have access to health insurance. But my focus of study will not be subjected to the US alone, I prefer to work all around the globe," says Mohan.
Prior to this project he has worked for a few months in the Polls Moor prison in South Africa on first aid and training with the prisoners and the authorities and now plans to do a project in Singapore on the effect of religious diversity on the justice ideals in school children.
Asked why he was working on so many projects, Mohan quickly asserted that he is building up his thesis papers and gearing up for the future.
What legal aid means.
Many times due to below par economic reasons one cannot afford to pay the cost associated with the prosecution of a case. In such circumstances, one is entitled to receive legal aid support as per the Act. The support may be in the form of exemption of court fees and having the court appoint and pay the advocate's charges.
The aid could be in the form of reimbursements or grants before the prosecution of the case. This varies from State to State.
Who is eligible?
A member of Scheduled Caste or Tribe.
A victim of human trafficking or a beggar as referred to in Article 23.
A woman or a child.
A person with disability as defined in Clause (i) of Section 2 of persons with disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act, 1995), such as blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness.
A victim of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste atrocity, flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster.
An industrial workman.
People in custody including juvenile homes and psychiatric nursing homes.
People whose annual income is less than Rs.9,000.
Where to apply
Free legal aid is available at the State, district and taluk/mandal levels, depending on which level the case is being tried. The application should be addressed to the Secretary, Legal Services Authority at the respective levels.
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