CJP’s Guwahati legal aid petition: State fails to file an affidavit CJP had moved the HC over inadequate legal aid for NRC excluded persons

06, Apr 2021 | CJP Team

The State of Assam has failed to file an affidavit in the matter before the High Court, where CJP had sought 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 in light of the several pending appeals to be filed before Foreigners Tribunals (FT) by people from marginalised sections to prove their citizenship.

Senior advocate Mihir Desai appeared for CJP, assisted by Advocate Mrinmoy Dutta and the High Court has fixed the next hearing on May 10, 2021.

Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s campaign has become even more focused. Our objective now, is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. We are also helping secure the release of detention camp inmates as per the Supreme Court order on their conditional release. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.

In the previous hearing on March 1, 2021, the Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak had said, “Issue notice, returnable in four weeks… Reply be filed within three weeks. Put up on 05.04.2021.” But the High Court on April 5, gave the State time to file its response and will hear the matter in May.

CJP had filed a public interest litigation raising concerns over the quality of legal aid to be provided to those in Assam whose names do not figure in the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The plea emphasised that those excluded cannot be deemed non-citizens till the remedies available before them are exhausted, and unless the marginalised among them are not provided adequate legal aid, they would suffer irreparable loss and injury.

The organisation also raised concern before the court that since NRC excluded people are required to file an appeal where the limitation is 120 days, there would not be sufficient funds for such persons to engage legal counsel and get legal aid in such a short span of time. Hence, the plea also contended that legal aid be provided by the Assam State Legal Services Authority as well as the National Legal Services Authority to the aggrieved people.

CJP had gone one step further and 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 Foreigners Tribunal to prove their citizenship. It also said 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.

More details about the petition may be read here.

(To be updated with order dated April 5, 2021)


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