Ease of justice is as important as ease of doing business and ease of living, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday as he urged the judiciary to speed up release of undertrials who are languishing in jails, awaiting legal aid.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju also stressed the urgent need to address the plight of undertrial prisoners by providing them with legal aid. There were speaking at the first All India District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) Meet here.
Also read: Only a few can afford courts, majority suffer in silence: CJI Ramana
Supreme Court judges Justices U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud were also on the dais at the first nation-wide DLSAs meet. There are a total of 676 DLSAs in the country, each headed by a district judge.
Only a small percentage of the population can afford to approach the courts for justice, the majority suffer in silence, CJI Ramana said.
According to the ‘Prison Statistics India’ report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2020, there were as many as 4,88,511 prison inmates of whom 76%, or 3,71,848, were undertrials.
In his address, the Prime Minister lauded the use of technology in India’s judicial system, adding that the access to the judicial system is equally important as the delivery of justice for any society.
“This is the time of ‘Azadi ke Amrit Kaal’. This is the time for the resolutions that will take the country to new heights in the next 25 years. Like Ease of Doing Business and Ease of Living, Ease of Justice is equally important in this Amrit Yatra of the country,” Mr. Modi said.
Noting that the Supreme Court, on several occasions, spoken on the need to be sensitive towards the humanitarian issue of undertrial prisoners, he suggested the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) can take up the responsibility of providing legal aid to such prisoners.
The District Judges, as Chairpersons of undertrial review committees, can expedite the release of undertrial prisoners, Mr. Modi said.
“As important as access to the judicial system is for any society, justice delivery is equally important. The judicial infrastructure also has an important contribution to this. In the last eight years, work has been done at a fast pace to strengthen the judicial infrastructure of the country,” he said.
Mr. Modi praised the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) for undertaking a campaign for the release of undertrial prisoners, and urged the Bar Council to encourage more lawyers to get involved in the campaign.
The Chief Justice highlighted India’s hard reality of social and economic disparities affecting the democratic objective of justice for all. The majority of the population lack legal awareness and necessary means to approach the courts, the top judge said.
“Modern India was built around the goal of removing the disparities in the society. Project Democracy is about providing a space for participation of all. Participation will not be possible without social emancipation. Access to justice is a tool for social emancipation,” the CJI said in his address at the meet.
Chief Justice Ramana said the strengthening the district judiciary was the “need of the hour”. They are the first point of contact for much of the population. Public’s opinion about the judiciary would primarily rest on their experiences with the district judicial officers.
Mr. Rijiju informed NALSA campaign, launched on July 16, to identify undertrial prisoners who are eligible for release will hold weekly meetings with an aim to release of maximum number of undertrial prisoners on or before August 15. DLSAs have been mandated to hold weekly meetings of undertrial review committees (UTRCs) to discuss progress, review additional cases and to discuss further action including filing of bails in high courts and the Supreme Court, if required, the Law Minister said.
While Justice Chandrachud said justice should not be limited to the socio-economically privileged sections and it is the duty of State actors to secure a “just and egalitarian” social order, Justice Lalit said NALSA propses to have ‘legal aid’ defence counsel to those who cannot afford lawyers.