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NUJS legal aid wrap 2011: Plans greater co-operation, joint projects

NUJS Kolkata legal aid society (LAS) has called for a strengthening of legal aid networks across India, as it released a report of the college’s legal aid activities this year which included tie-ups with human rights organizations and a successful national conference.

NUJS LAS convenor Nishant Gokhale said that the main achievements for the society this year were having tied up with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for the Shadhinota project to help undertrial prisoners, establishing an anti-trafficking unit with the International Justice Mission (IJM) as well as organizing a successful national networking event.

“In the coming year, we will focus on continuing the projects undertaken last year as well as take on strengthening our network with the Law Schools (we plan both a regional and national conference) and work on a Rural Governance project on the lines of the bare-foot lawyering scheme envisioned by NALSA,” said Gokhale. “We are trying to work towards a national legal aid movement.”

Gokhale added that the thrust of the LAS would be decided by the new committee, but as per deliberations held during the last few meetings the focus was likely to be RTI and consumer protection. “We are planning to have a theme for each year's national conference so that there is a body of knowledge and activity which is undertaken every year. There is a dearth of quality legal aid literature and we hope through our efforts we can generate good academic writing on the subject which will help shape its evolution.”

“I believe that Legal Aid Societies across the country, infact, across the world can benefit tremendously by looking at how each other function and share ideas, common concerns, governance structures and solutions to problems,” noted Gokhale. “

NUJS had organised a national legal aid conference in February that saw 24 law schools discuss how to coordinate to take legal aid forward across India.

Gokhale said: “This conference, was just about the concept of legal aid and why it is important for colleges to work together. It was just a small step towards something that I hope will be a big thing. While physical co-ordination is difficult amongst law schools, they can certainly share ideas and ensure that there is a healthy degree of comparison, not the moot or debate-like competition, which is the driving force behind building capabilities for Legal Aid work in each institution. Till now, the most important fora where law schools meet has been at debates and moots, but we hope that we can shift to a comparative and co-operative model for Legal Aid Societies.”

“The model that we have in mind is to have a particular law school or college as the nodal institution in that State or region and the others to work with this nodal institution. Each state or region can identify a list of issues which are of priority to them and identify strategies towards resolving them. These can involve identifying government schemes, a list of NGOs working on the issues and models followed by other Legal Aid Societies. The nodal agency in each State or region and work with the State Legal Service Authority. As Prof. Menon in his lecture at the Conference stated, law schools need to ensure that machinery set up under the LSA Act, 1987 works well. I hope that the National Legal Service Authority will work closely with the Law Schools and involve them more actively in policy-making and execution of their plans,” continued Gokhale.

The members of NUJS’ LAS in 2010-11 were Agndipto Tarafdar Aishwarya Ayushmaan Aishwarya Mani, Akash Jena, Amrita Sarkar, Atindriyo Chakraborty, Kritika Sethia, Kumar Rahul, M U Ganashruthi, Neha Mathen, Nihal Joseph, Nishant Gokhale, Pallavi Sharma, Payoshi Roy, Ruth Chenchiah, Sanchari Ghosh, Shourya Sengupta, Somdutta Bhattacharya, Sreerupa Choudhary, Vaneesha Jain. Gokhale said that the contributions of LLM students Sabyasachi Chatterjee, Shuvro Prosun Sarker, Shounak Chatterjee, Soumyajit Das and Uddyam Mukherjee were also invaluable.

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