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Scrutiny
  
Are Poor Allowed to File Cases Free?
Monetary aid for Legal Cases needs to be Urgently taken to More People
03/02/2011

Chief Justice A. P. Shah once said that “it would take the court approximately 466 years” to clear pending criminal cases alone! The number of cases pending in our country was over a staggering 31.1 million as of June 30, 2009; including 27 million pending in subordinate courts, 4 million in High Courts and 50,659 cases in the Supreme Court. A large section of India’s poor is involved in many such cases in the HC and SC. But legal expenditures incurred in fighting such cases have long shattered the ceiling and are only moving upwards. This makes it imperative that the underprivileged multitudes be provided with more legal and monetary aid.

While the Supreme Court has such provisions under the National Legal services Authority (NALSA) established in 1987 – where the lower income groups and weaker sections of the society can fight cases free of cost – this service is applicable only to people whose annual income is less than Rs.50,000. It is provided to industrial workmen, beggars, disabled people, victims of natural calamities, SC/ST, et al. For those who do not fall under NALSA – and whose sum of dispute is below Rs.20, 000 – a minimum court fee of Rs.250 is charged. For every increase of Rs.1,000, an added 0.5% is charged as court fee (for example, the overall revenue from court-fees for 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 in SC amounted to Rs.11.9 million, Rs.128 million and Rs.133 million respectively. The budgetary allocation to the SC in 2009 was above Rs.1 billion).

There is a definite case for taking the benefit of the NALSA service beyond its traditional target audience. It’s naive for instance, to keep Rs.50,000 as the legal dividing line for assistance. For a family of four with one earning member, even a Rs.200,000 annual income is in reality equivalent to being as poor, yet not getting the NALSA service.

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