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Paralegals' role in offering affordable, quality legal services to vulnerable sections

A public event in Delhi, National Meet on Social Lawyering — organized by the Centre for Social Justice and Lawyers for Change — saw release the book , “Nyayika – Making Professional Legal Services Accessible”, which deals with how Nyayika carried out its unique experiment over the last one year of its existence as a private non-profit company. Prof Madhava Menon, chancellor, Guru Ghasidas Central University, Chhattisgarh, who released the book, said the Nayika model of community lawyering offering affordable legal services with sensitivity to the poor and the vulnerable should focus more on people and communities rather than courts. He added, there was a need to move away from court-centric lawyering towards a process of bringing justice to the people by using administrative and other mechanisms outside the courts to enable people to claim their rights and entitlements, and live with dignity.
Among those who took part in the event included founding directors of Nyayika Rajendra Joshi, founder of SAATH Charitable Trust; Gagan Sethi, founder of Janvikas; Nupur Sinha, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice; and Satyajeet Mazumdar, CEO of Nyayika.
Providing quality professional legal services, both litigative and non-litigative, through trained lawyers and paralegals in its law centres, Nyayika addresses one the main barriers in access to quality legal services for people from the middle and lower income groups – the high fees of a lawyer – by providing its services for a fixed and affordable fee payable according to a payment schedule. Those unable to pay are offered free services. Nyayika follows transparent processes, assures speedy disposal of cases and is accountable towards its clients, a client friendly standardized operating procedure, and a robust monitoring and information system across eight centres in Gujarat – Ahwa, Modasa, Mandvi, Bharuch, Palanpur, Amreli, Vadodara, and Ahmedabad.
Below we reproduce some of the selected success stories of Nyayika, which would showcase how the new model has worked in solving people’s problems:
***

Child sex abuse in school, Mota Vijuda, Amreli district:

A child studying in class five was sexually abused by his school teacher, following which his father lodged a written complaint to the school principal. Based on the complaint, the principal brought the incident to the notice of the district education officer (DEO), who initiated an inquiry. Finding substance in the complaint, the teacher was transferred to another school. Nyayika learnt of the incident from a local newspaper. It approached the father of the child, the school principal and parents of two other children of the school and took their statements. The child’s parents regretted that the authorities had not acted sufficiently against the accused.
Nyayika sought copies of the written complaint of the father and the reply he had received from the DEO. An FIR was registered under Sections 4, 8 and 10 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 against the teacher. On investigation, police found that the complaint was true. Meanwhile, the accused sought anticipatory bail from the court, which was rejected on Nyayika’s plea backed by the public prosecutor. The accused was arrested and is in jail. It took just a month to book the culprit. It has created considerable awareness among people about Nyayika’s ability to seek justice. The teacher community, on the other hand, has become wary of acting in a highhanded manner.

Compensation to Amreli’s workers:

About a year ago, Nyayika learnt that many workers from Amreli district belonging to different talukas — Savarkundra, Lathi, Jaffrabad and Dhari – were not getting any compensation under the Workers’ Insurance Scheme. They would apply for compensation to the district labour officer, who would send the applications for approval to the director, insurance, Gandhinagar. After a lapse of seven to eight months, the director, insurance, Gandhinagar, would return most of the applications saying these workers could not be covered under the insurance scheme. The applications would be rejected, saying the workers did not adequate proof.
Nyayika filed a right to information (RTI) application to know about number of persons from Amreli district who had applied for insurance under the scheme, how many applications were pending, and how many were rejected. Based on the RTI reply, Nyayika called a meeting in Amreli of those whose names were rejected. Forty of them turned up for the meeting. Participants were asked why their names were rejected. They replied reason included insufficient documents. As all the workers were consumers of the insurance scheme, Nyayika decided to approach a consumer court for redressal of the grievance.
Twenty of the workers agreed to file complaint before the consumer court under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, under sections 12 and 13. A reply was sought from the director, insurance, Gandhinagar, as to why these persons were not paid insurance amount. The director, insurance, gave several reasons, including failure to send the application to him on time and insufficient documents, including identity cards. These replies were challenged through 20 affidavits, which were forwarded by Nyayika to the consumer court. It was argued that in the case the time period, the period should be counted not from the date of the accident but of the date on which the dispute commenced. As for identity card s, it was suggested that the workers did have them from the talati or the mamlatadar, which was equal to that of the certificate issued by the labour officer.
The consumer court ruled in favour of the workers. Each worker received Rs 1 lakh as insurance amount plus Rs 25,000 as interest. Each of the 20 received Rs 1.25 lakh. The director, insurance, Gandhinagar, who would evade giving proper answer found reason to become more vigilant. The workers became aware of the importance of identity card, and also that they could approach the consumer court to get compensation.

Land acquisition case in Babracot village, Amreli district:

This case relates to land acquisition carried out for mining by Ultratech in Babracot village of Rajula taluka in Amreli district for the company’s cement plant. The land acquisition had taken place in 1993, and six farmers agreed to sell their land to the company for Rs 70,000 per bigha under an agreement. During Nyayika’s interaction with the villagers, it came out that the company did not pay the full amount. Worse, the company quietly transferred in some land which belonged to the farmers in its name.
During the meeting, Nyayika explained to farmers about the land acquisition law. The six persons, whose land was acquired, agreed that their land had been taken away fraudulently, but had no proof, hence were helpless. Nyayika decided to file RTI application to get documents of the land which was transferred to the company, including ownership details and the amount paid to the farmers. Within 30 days Nyayika received reply. It was found that the company had not paid in accordance with the prevailing market rate. It was also found that the company had fraudulently taken away some pieces of land. The agreement required that the company would provide job to the affected farmers and their families, but this was not done.
Legal notice was served to the company on behalf of the six farmers. The notice demanded payment as per the market rate, and also payment against mental and physical harassment, misuse of the farm land, loss to agriculture and livelihood. In each case, Rs 3 to 4 lakh was demanded as compensation. The company called the farmers for a compromise. The farmers insisted that they should be paid compensation, or else they would approach the court of law. The matter is at the pre-litigation stage. Thanks to Nyayika’s intervention, the farmers in the region became aware of land-related issues.

Incestual rape in Ankaleshwar, Bharuch district:

This case relates to rape of a 14-year-old girl by her father in Ankaleshwar. Studying in seventh standard, the victim lived with his father, who had divorced his wife, with whom their son lived. The girl became pregnant a couple of times, and she was given capsule to trigger abortion. The father would threaten her that she would be murdered if she opened her mouth. During one vacation, the girl’s paternal aunt (chachi) took her to her mother’s residence. When the school vacation ended, the mother asked her to return, but she refused, and divulged what all had happened to her. The mother told everything to the child’s grandmother. A complaint was registered with the Ankaleshwar police station.
The police sought Nyayika’s help. A senior activist Pramilaben, who took personal interest in the matter, took statements from the child, the mother and the grandmother. She also got the child medically examined. An application was filed seeking compensation for the rape victim. Police was told to arrest the accused, which was done within a week. The accused person’s bail application was got rejected with the help of public prosecutor.
Nyayika’s intervention proved crucial. Pramilaben Varmora, a senior paralegal activist with Nyayika, took statement from the grandmother, the mother, and the victim. The father’s lawyer sought to argue out that the mother, who was a divorcee and had illicit relationship with someone, had put up a false case. The public prosecutor was told that the father’s lawyer should argue only on the complaint, and not about the character of the mother. The court agreed. It sentenced the father to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000. The rape victim received Rs 20,000 as compensation within a year.

Employment dispute in Vadodara:

Mr A (the complainant) was employed at ABC Info Soft Solutions Pvt Ltd (the employer) since December 19, 2013. The employer terminated the services of Mr A on April 10, 2014 through a termination letter sent on email. No termination notice was issued even though his contract with the employer required one month’s notice to be issued. Mr A’s salary for the month of March was also not paid. When this issue was raised by Mr A before the employer, it was alleged that Mr A had deleted data from the employer’s PC, hence his services were terminated without notice.
Mr A approached Nyayika on the May 9, 2014. Nyayika sent a legal notice to the employer on May 13, 2014 demanding payment of the salary due, which was Rs 40,000. The employer in turn filed a complaint before the police on May 16, 2014 against Mr A for the loss caused to the company from the data so deleted. The employer then replied to the legal notice on May 19, 2014 agreeing to settle the dispute through conciliation. The first conciliation sitting was held at the police station where Mr A was accompanied by a Nyayika lawyer. The employer agreed to take back the police complaint and agreed to pay part of the salary due to Mr. A. The second conciliation sitting was held at a café, where after much negotiation, the employer agreed to pay a sum of Rs 25000 to Mr A to settle the dispute.
The fees charged by Nyayika from Mr A for the entire process was Rs 1,500 only.

Conciliation in a case of domestic violence:

Mr N and Ms D were in a relationship. They decided to secretly get married and got a registered marriage done on October 20, 2000. Thereafter, they started living with their respective parents. However, their parents soon came to know of this, after which Ms D moved in to the residence of Mr N. Ms D continued her studies, obtained a degree and joined a school as a dance teacher. Meanwhile, Mr N was unemployed because of which his parents started to scold and quarrel with him frequently. This resulted in the couple moving out of the house and living independently in 2003.
Ms D managed the household expenses and sent her husband to an African country for a job. Somehow it did not work out and Mr N had to return to India in the year 2005. Ms D gave birth to a boy in the same year. In the year 2011, Ms D managed to purchase a house from her savings. She also had a second child, a daughter in the same year. Mr N was still unemployed. He developed a habit of drinking, and would also beat up Ms D. He started getting suspicious of Ms D, and this led to frequent arguments. On May 27, 2014, Mr N started a quarrel and Ms D retaliated. On hearing shouts, neighbours intervened and called up Ms D’s mother. Ms D left for her mother’s place at night.
Ms D approached Nyayika on May 28, 2014. The Nyayika lawyer listened to what Ms D had to say. Initially, Ms D wanted a divorce but was counseled about the process and all its pros and cons. Thereafter, she decided that to issue a legal notice to her husband through Nyayika and asked him to be present for mutual conciliation at the Nyayika office. A notice was served to Mr N on June 2, 2014 and the conciliation was fixed for the June 17. The conciliation took place in the presence of Ms D’s mother. Mr N was given a hearing after which both parties put forth their terms and conditions for entering into a compromise. Ms D wanted an assurance from Mr N that he would stop drinking and hitting her. Mr N wanted an assurance from Ms D that she would not get be vacated from the house they were living.. A compromise agreement was reached. Both parties signed the same in the presence of a notary on June 18, 2014.
The fees charged by Nyayika for the entire procedure was Rs 1,000 only.

The book can be downloaded by clicking HERE

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