March 6, 2005
Simplify Language Of Laws Of Land: PM*
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today launched India’s first national legal literacy mission: 2005-10 with a call to simplify the language of laws of the land.
”The complex legal language of our statutes acts as a hurdle to legal literacy… compounded by the intricacies of legal language in judicial pronouncements,” Dr Singh told invitees at the launch at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi.
He said ”an attempt should be made to simplify the language of the law so that any one who reads judgements and laws can easily understand their true meaning.”
The legal literacy mission is intended to empower millions of disadvantaged and other Indian citizens through awareness and free legal aid.
”This mission is a step in the direction of empowering people to enjoy their rights,” Dr Singh said. ”Equality in law requires equal access to law for this noble principle to translate into reality.”
Prime Minister Singh reminded that Article 39A of the Constitution gives a directive to the States to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.
”It directs the State to provide free legal aid with the aid of suitable legislation or schemes. It also directs it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen for reason of economic or other disabilities.”
He said the dictum that ignorance of law is no excuse ”creates a duty on the part of government” to make people aware of laws it enacts.
In spite of their publication in Gazette, due to low literacy, a majority of the population is not aware of its rights and duties, he said.
”This is an initiative that is dear to me and has my whole hearted support,” Dr Singh said.
The Mission has identified a set of beneficiaries it immediately expects to address: children, minority communities, victims of militancy, victims of crime, disaster and disease, child and bonded labour, landless farming community, dalits and tribal communities, especially in the northeast, farmers hit by droughts and floods, trafficked girls and sex workers and the poorest of the poor.
”From Ignorance to Legal Empowerment” was the goal proclaimed as part of the Mission’s emblem and mascot unveiled by the Prime Minister jointly with India’s Chief Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti and Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj.
Justice Lahoti recalled the founding fathers’ vision of India as just and equitable for all citizens, but said ”this dream is yet to find fruition.”
In the 21st century– 57 years after independence– ”concepts such as just and equitable remain unfamiliar for the millions of people who still remain beyond the safety net of law and justice.”
Justice Lahoti said when citizens, particularly marginalised or underprivileged groups, know what the law has to offer them, they can recognise and challenge the injustices forcefully.
”The first step towards that knowledge of the law, which can transform people’s lives, is legal literacy.”
Bhardwaj told audience that the Mission was aimed at addressing the farthest geographical areas and the most vulnerable sections of the population in the first phase.
”The people need to be told the benefits of legal aid… otherwise they will continue to resign to their fate for exploitation and discrimination.”
The ceremony was also attended by Supreme Court Judges N Santosh Hegde and Y K Sabharwal and a number of other sitting and retired Judges, including Chief Justices of various High Courts.
Justice Hegde, Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), which has undertaken the Mission, reminded that legal aid was not charity– but an obligation of the State ”enshrined in Article 39A of our Constitution.”
He said NALSA was formed for this very purpose– ”to provide free and competent legal services and encourage the general public to settle their disputes amicably.”
A note of caution and realism was struck by Justice Sabharwal, Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee.
”I must emphasise,” Justice Sabharwal said, ”that from Ignorance to Empowerment is a long journey and let us not hope that one NALSA will achieve it in next five years like a magic.”
”Only providing legal aid to settle a dispute is not a solution for the progress of our country.
”The solution lies in our hands if we can grant these people a window of social justice by way of monitoring why such benefits meant for them have not been delivered to them and if not delivered to them, then who in this country is responsible for such a lapse.
”We need to set examples of accountability in our Governance,” Justice Sabharwal said.
Asked afterwards whether legal literacy would include informing beneficiaries as to delays or other inadequacy involved in litigation, Justice Hegde said the effort would be to have matters resolved through pre-trial options.
These include Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques such as conciliation, mediation, arbitration and so on. Litigation would be the last step, he said.
Justice Lahoti said three steps were being taken to reduce pendencies in courts.
They included relying in a big way on ADR, making justice delivery system more effective and introducing information technology in judiciary.
Justice Lahoti also mentioned two major studies which have been undertaken jointly along with Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Progamme to identify shortcomings in the system.
Asked about inquiry commissions, some of which end up in the archives, Justice Lahoti said governments– he was not referring to incumbent government– sometimes buy time by appointing inquiries essentially to let tempers cool.
UNI MJ RP GR1823