New Delhi, Jul 30 (PTI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday stressed that ease of justice was equally important as ease of doing business and ease of living, as he urged the judiciary to speed up release of undertrials awaiting legal aid and languishing in jails.
The urgent need to address the plight of the undertrial prisoners by providing legal aid was also underlined by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and Law Minister Kiren Rijiju at the first All India District Legal Services Authorities Meet here.
According to the ‘Prison Statistics India’ report published by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2020, there were 4,88,511 prison inmates of whom 76 per cent or 3,71,848 were undertrials.
In his address at the meet, the prime minister also praised the use of technology in India’s judicial system, adding citizens have immense faith in the judiciary and that access to the judicial system is equally important as the delivery of justice for any society.
“This is the time of ‘Azadi ke Amrit Kaal’. This is the time for the resolutions that will take the country to new heights in the next 25 years. Like Ease of Doing Business and Ease of Living, Ease of Justice is equally important in this Amrit Yatra of the country.”
The Supreme Court has spoken on several occasions on the need to be sensitive towards the humanitarian issue of undertrial prisoners, he said and added that the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) can take up the responsibility of providing legal aid to such prisoners.
The District Judges, as Chairpersons of undertrial review committees, can expedite the release of undertrial prisoners, the prime minister said.
Lauding the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) for undertaking a campaign for the release of undertrial prisoners, he urged the Bar Council to encourage more lawyers to get involved in this campaign.
Highlighting the place of legal aid in the Directive Principles of the State Policy, Modi said this importance is reflected in the faith of the citizens in the Judiciary of the country.
“As important as access to the judicial system is for any society, justice delivery is equally important. The judicial infrastructure also has an important contribution to this. In the last eight years, work has been done at a fast pace to strengthen the judicial infrastructure of the country,” he said.
CJI Ramana said one of the most important aspects which calls for active consideration and intervention of the legal services authorities in the country is the condition of undertrials.
“The prime minister and the attorney general have also rightly flagged this issue in the recently held conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices. I am happy to note that NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) is actively collaborating with all stakeholders in securing the much-deserved relief for undertrials.”
He also termed access to justice “a tool for social emancipation” and said only a small percentage of the population can approach courts while the majority suffers in silence, lacking awareness and necessary means.
Rijiju said the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) has launched a campaign to identify undertrial prisoners who are eligible for release and recommend their cases to review committees.
He said the campaign was launched on July 16 under which district legal services authorities have been mandated to hold weekly meetings of undertrial review committees (UTRCs) to discuss progress, review additional cases and to discuss further action including filing of bails in high courts and the Supreme Court, if required.
Rijiju said these meetings are scheduled every week till August 13 and aim for release of maximum number of undertrial prisoners on or before August 15.
Supreme Court judge D Y Chandrachud said justice should not be limited to the socio-economically privileged sections and it is the duty of State actors to secure a “just and egalitarian social order” where justice is not denied due to social and economic disabilities.
Observing that in a nation as vast as India where “graded inequality” exists, Justice Chandrachud called for the use of technology saying it would “taper the digital divide by widening the reach of technology.”
Highlighting the achievements by using the technological tools, he said, “The impact of technology on furthering access to justice to every citizen is significant…19.2 million cases were heard on video conferencing by the high courts and district courts as of 30 April 2022. The National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) has data of 17 crore decided and pending cases.”
In his address, Modi also underlined India’s leadership in information technology and fintech, and stressed there cannot be a better time to introduce more power of technology to judicial proceedings.
“Under the e-Courts Mission, virtual courts are being started in the country. Courts have started functioning round the clock for crimes like traffic violations. Video conferencing infrastructure is also being expanded in the courts for the convenience of the people,” he said.
The prime minister noted that more than one crore cases have been heard through video conferencing in the country.
“This proves that our judicial system is committed to the ancient Indian values of justice and, at the same time, is ready to match the realities of the 21st century,” Modi said.
The two-day meeting of DLSAs organised by the NALSA will deliberate on the creation of an integrated procedure to bring homogeneity and synchronisation across DLSAs.
There are a total of 676 DLSAs in the country, each headed by the District Judge. NALSA implements various legal aid and awareness programmes through DLSAs and State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs).
The DLSAs also contribute towards reducing the burden on courts by regulating the Lok Adalats conducted by NALSA.