07, Feb 2022 | CJP Team
The Assam State Legal Services Authority (ASLSA) has indicated in its affidavit that it is in need of financial resources to provide legal aid to the large chunk of the state’s population (over 19 lakh persons) who have been left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). This affidavit was submitted in connection with the petition filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in March 2021, seeking directions to the state to formulate effective and robust modalities for legal aid in terms of having trained panels of lawyers and adequate front offices considering the impending appeals to be filed before Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) by people from marginalised sections to prove their citizenship.
The ASLSA has now filed an affidavit in this petition before the High Court stating that it has made endeavors to train its staff in citizenship matters however is lagging in financial resources for providing aid to the large population that has been left out of NRC.
Every day of each week, a formidable team of community volunteers, district volunteer motivators and lawyers—CJP’s Team Assam – is providing ready at hand paralegal guidance, counselling and actual legal aid to hundreds of individuals and families paralysed by the citizenship-driven humanitarian crisis in the state. Our boots on the ground approach has ensured that 12,00,000 persons filled their forms to enlist in the NRC (2017-2019) and over the past one year alone we have helped release 52 persons from Assam’s dreaded detention camps. Our intrepid team provides paralegal assistance to, on an average of 72-96 families each month. Our district-level, legal team works on 25 Foreigner Tribunal cases month on month. This ground level data ensures informed interventions by CJP in our Constitutional Courts, the Guwahati High Court and the Supreme Court. Such work is possible because of you, individuals all over India, who believe in this work. Our maxim, Equal Rights for All. #HelpCJPHelpAssam. Donate NOW!
The ASLSA has now filed an affidavit before the Guwahati High Court, where it has stated that in most of the districts of Assam, the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) have formed a separate legal aid panel for providing legal aid for those in need. Those DLSAs that do not have such a separate panel, are providing aid from the already existing panel.
The Authority has further stated there are only 2 Sub Divisional Legal Services Committees (SDLSC) in the state and for the rest, the services are dispensed by the DLSAs as 26 SDLSC proposals are pending government approval/sanction.
It is further stated that DLSAs hold legal services camps, have front offices as well and have their own panel of advocates, paralegals in each district and even have separate panels for legal aid in Foreigners Tribunals. A definite number, however, has not been provided. On the issue of training, the Authority states that in November a discourse program was organised in November 2021 on subject of Citizenship Act and another program titled “Foreigners Tribunals: Latest Developments, Challenges and Strategies” is scheduled for February.
The Authority also admits that since a large population of over 19 lakh persons is left out of the NRC, it needs considerable financial resources and that the state government needs to revisit the budget allocation to enable it to provide the requisite legal aid; which means the Authority is falling short of financial resources.
This is a significant admission on record of the ASLSA’s inability to provide adequate legal aid to all those who might need it, and now the Assam state government must prove its commitment to the NRC process by allocating sufficient funds to the legal aid authorities in the state.
The affidavit may be read here:
As CJP is actively involved in ground-work it never came across any concerted efforts in furtherance of the 2019 communication issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and thus submitted a representation before Secretary of Home Department in Assam for framing scheme and modalities for providing effective legal aid to those left out of the NRC. CJP also conducted an independent survey in 10 districts of Assam to assess the preparedness of District Legal Services Authorities (DSLA) which revealed that the front offices were either not present or the ones that had front offices were inadequate in terms of space or in terms of staff.
It was also revealed that in none of the ten legal services authorities were the personnel trained on Citizenship, NRC, Immigration or the Foreigners Act, all of which are germane to the impending situation of people having to appeal before the Foreigners Tribunal to prove their citizenship. It also revealed that a total of 10 cases were handled by the counsel of these DSLA, all by Dhubri DLSA: 7 in 2019, and 3 in 2020.
The petition states that ASLSA’s wait-and-watch approach towards modifying its front offices and empanelling more retainers and paralegals shows that there is a lack of proactive steps being taken to prepare the institutions to deal with an impending situation.
The petition has prayed for writs to direct state authorities to appoint adequate legal aid lawyers and provide them with manuals so that uniform legal assistance is provided, to formulate modalities of legal aid for NRC left outs. It also prays that the court directs that unless necessary advance arrangements for legal aid are made, rejection slips should not be handed out to those excluded.
Through this petition, CJP seeks to have a state machinery ready to assist the marginalised sections, among the 19 lakh excluded from NRC, so that no rightful citizen gets deprived of his/her citizenship merely because of lack of proper and effective legal aid.
Development so far
While this impending affidavit was expected last year itself, in November 2021, the court asked the Centre as well as the Assam State Government to indicate their stand on provision of funds. Now the awaited affidavit of ASLSA clearly indicates that the authority that has the obligation to dispense with legal aid is in shortage of financial resources for providing legal aid to the NRC left outs.