The credibility of the legal system and the rule of law have come under "severe strain" in the absence of timely help to poor and illiterate Indians, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar said on Saturday.
The CJI made the observations while highlighting the importance of para legal volunteers who, according to him, enabled ordinary and helpless people to avail the benefits of the legal system for alleviating their sufferings and injustice.
"In the absence of timely help to most Indians, the credibility of the legal system and the rule of law comes under severe strain," he said, stressing that the poor and illiterate Indian were the main clients of the justice system.
Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who also spoke at the two-day National Meet of Para Legal Volunteers in New Delhi, emphasised the use of technology in providing access and administration of justice.
Inaugurating two-day national meet, the CJI said the service to poor was a "super divine duty" being carried out by the volunteers, which was move than the "divine duty discharged by the judges".
The last-mile connectivity for a villager under the PLV scheme was not the lawyers but the PLVs working under the competent legal authorities which impart awareness of laws and legal system to them, he said.
When the disputes are such that they are beyond the capacity of these volunteers who have basic training in law, they approach the nearest legal services authority for a dispute settlement mechanism like Lok Adalat, mediation or more formal legal remedies.
"These volunteers trained under the 2009 para legal volunteer scheme act as filters relating to the number and nature of disputes that need to be formally and institutionally dealt with by the legal services. Para legal volunteers save time and money of the poor, the official administration and the courts," Justice Khehar said.
Lauding NALSA's poverty allevation scheme, he said it ensured that the benefits of various anti-poverty schemes of the central and the state governments actually reach the intended beneficiaries.
Emphasising the need for restructuring its approach and design, the CJI favoured skill-driven PLVs who can properly research and investigate facts or laws related to a case.
"In fact, this will develop para legal volunteer as multi skilled individual and enhance his or her performance as the critical interface between the common litigant and the courts by a process of upgradation that opens more opportunity for them," he said.
The minister emphasised the need for increasing use of technology in the judicial process.
"Time is changing fast and with the changing times, we have to change our technology. Technology is a very important tool in the administration of justice.
"In a country of 125 crore people, 108 crore people have mobile phones, among whom 35 crore have smart phones, which will very fast reach 50 crore figure", Prasad said.
He said 113 crore people have Aadhaar cards but refused to speak on it further saying the matter was sub-judice.
Noting that good governance can be delivered with the help of technology, he said with government's scheme of common service centre, people in villages and in small towns could avail digital services like making of ration cards, PAN cards, Aadhaar cards or booking of railway tickets.
"We have decided to link the CSC with the access to justice. Now these centres could help Dalit women, Kashmiri women and people from North East to get access to justice," he said, adding that CSCs were being opened in 1,000 panchayats of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and soon 800 such centres will be opened in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.
Justice Dipak Misra, the executive chairman of NALSA, said this year has been dedicated as the year of excellence to "access to justice through para-legal volunteers".
"Through these legal volunteers, the poor people of the country will be able know about government schemes and seek redressal of their grievances," he said.
Several Supreme Court judges, high court judges and judicial officers from various trial courts across the country were also present at the event.
IMAGE: Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad with Chief Justice of India Justice J S Khehar at the national meet of Para Legal Volunteers in New Delhi . Photograph: PTI Photo