ByÂ Naman Mohnot:
The concept of legal aid encompasses a broad range of activities that aim at social advancement by creatively utilizing the instrument of law. Legal profession, the way it is currently practiced and organized, is primarily concerned with the improvement of the quality of legal services rather than ensuring equitable and even distribution of legal services. That is where the concept of legal aid finds its relevance-it strives to make law relevant to the masses, who, somehow are left out and exist below the visibility line of law in action.
My role, and to a certain extent, a turning point in my life came when I read an article through which I came to know about the pathetic condition of prisoners which deserved attention. I also came to know how they are treated in jails. A notable thing was that most of the under trials are in jail illegally, but neither any awareness nor concern regarding this has been generated. I recollected that in the case of Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, the Honourable Patna High court had granted bail to 40,000 under trials. That was inspiration enough and I was impelled to do something to make as much of a difference to their lives as possible. The dilemma remained however as to what I should do. I came to know about the idea of legal aid programmes and how they could be the liberating force for numerous lives. I came across 436-A, a section of CrPc. In 2006 an amendment was made to section 436 of CrPC and a clause “A” was added to this section. According to this section, an under trial person can be considered for release if he has not been accused of an offence punishable with death sentence and has already served one half of the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed for the offence for which he is accused or more than that. If an under trial meets the requirements of this section then he can apply for bail by contacting his lawyer to file a fresh application for bail, or he can apply for free legal aid to the District or State Legal Services Authority, or by contacting the Superintendent of Jail, or writing a letter to the IG [prisons]. The concerned court may, after hearing the public prosecutor, order release on personal bond with or without sureties, or release the person on bail, after recording the reasons, or order continued detention, after recording the reasons in writing.
I followed the same procedure. In Jodhpur, Rajasthan, I made two under trial prisoners obtain bail under section 436-A of the CrPC. First, I filed an RTI to know that how many under trials come under this section, then I got the whole list. RTI is a huge empowering mechanism. I started a detailed study of each and everyone. I met all of them. They wanted to breathe in free air, wanted to eat food cooked by their mothers and cherished liberty more than anyone, primarily due to the absence of it. But, they were ignorant largely owing to their illiteracy. I took their consent, and they readily signed the documents accepting me as their lawyer. There was a feel-good about what I was doing and I was also infused with zeal and respect to the future of what I had undertaken. When I met them, I felt a sense of satisfaction. After completing the work at the Jail, I moved to the district court. For the first time I appeared in a court and I had no guide. Nobody was there to teach me how to file a bail application, but my belief in the cause I was striving for kept me going. I kept enquiring from random people and proceeding further.
I then filed bail application to the concerned court. On the first day I had two cases. On entering the court for the first time I was thrilled and nervous at the same time, the latter more so because I did not know how things moved there. Several lawyers taught me court procedure and guided me. Now it was my turn to fulfill my part. I argued with the public prosecutor for ten minutes. The hon’ble Magistrate did not seem convinced with the public prosecutor’s arguments. He asked us to come the next day. After coming home I prepared the whole case, I had some case studies of similar High Court cases for reference and some news article in which the respected High Court had contemplated that some thought about under trials needed to be inculcated. Next day, I went to court, I started pleading my case again. This time around, the Hon’ble magistrate was fully convinced with my case. The much anticipated moment of judgement delivery followed. Though the going had been steady, I was still apprehensive with respect to the outcome. The judgement was pronounced and lo! I had secured bail for that under trial. It infused me with immense confidence which helped me in my next cases. I secured bail for two under trials, and around five cases are still pending in the court.
It was a fulfilling experience. I was feeling very happy because I had done something good for those people. Now there is new hope in those under trials of beginning their lives anew. Newer bail applications started plying in courts. In the days that followed, I got a call from the Jodhpur commissioner. He had called me to his office. I went there, and then he asked me the whole procedure and how the things had gone till now. He was very happy. He told me that I should organise a free legal aid camp in Jodhpur. He asked me to meet the Collector. I met the Collector, who looked equally proud and happy. He proposed my name in his meeting with the Chief Minister for the State award. Fortunately, I was selected for State award in the legal field. My joy knew no bounds and my parents were proud of me. I was the youngest to receive the state award in the legal field. It was thrilling to face cameras and media interviews. It seemed like an acknowledgement of my work and also a mode of inculcating sensitivity about the issue among the masses. I am very thankful to everyone who helped me in this work. Now it is time to go a step further and do something more for them. I have got calls from many NGOs and the Rajasthan government. I am fully prepared with my next plan in which I shall work on establishing India’s first institute of its kind, established by students which will work to provide Legal aid.
It must be known that if proper work is done in this field then thousands of under trials can taste freedom. There are many other fields too in which legal aid can be rendered. The satisfaction and fulfilment this kind of work inculcates at the end of the day is the most rewarding. It is the true return of a work well done.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author:
Naman is a student of National Law University, Delhi pursuing BA.LLB(Hons). He is a founder of an NGO and also won the Rajasthan state award for his Legal Aid work in Jodhpur.[/box]