Interview with Dr. B S Patil Associate Professor of Law & Director, Legal Aid Society, V M Salgaocar College of Law, Goa

Interview with Dr. B S Patil Associate Professor of Law & Director, Legal Aid Society, V M Salgaocar College of Law, Goa

1. Tell me about yourself in brief.
My name is Dr B.S.Patil, Associate Professor, V M Salgaocar College of Law, Mirarmar, Panaji Goa. Our college was started way back in 1973. This was the first law college for State of Goa. 

2. What is the importance of study of SocioLegal issues in legal field?
Law profession is very different from other professions. This profession demands complete understanding of society. Law is culmination of all other fields of study, like economics, sociology, political science, science, biology, medical science. That is why the figure of speech which best describes lawyer is ‘Jack of all trade, master of none’. 
Law neither develops nor functions in vacuum. It always interacts with society. Therefore, having complete understanding of the society is sine qua non for a good lawyer. 

3. Tell me about your initiatives in legal aid & awareness field as a law student and now as law faculty
As a student, my exposure to Legal Aid was bare minimum. But the short exposure made me realise the unique profession which I am going to be part of. In the name of Legal Aid, we had one program arranged in a nearby village. I as a student had to put all my life experience (15 years may be, at that time) into action to convince people to attend the program. I am not very sure of benefit of the program to the locals (as we didn’t conduct impact assessment). But the benefit I drew was immense. I could easily vouch that, it was most learning experience of my student life. 
As a professor and Director of Legal Aid Society of VMSCL, I have undertaken many initiatives. Before I narrate my work, I must explain history of LAS at VMSCL. This society began in 1998; the uniqueness of this society is its membership. Every student of the college has to put in 200 hours of Legal Aid to qualify for the Viva for final year practical papers. 
The challenge faced by the college was to generate work for those many students (just to give picture of enormity, the college has strength of 700 students, except 1st and 2nd year of five year course and 1st year of three year course rest all are part of LAS). 
This lead us to second uniqueness, this is one of its kind in India and may be in the world, we started community Cells. Each group of students travelling from certain locality have to start their community cell. The preferred places were, Library, Panchayat hall, Church, Templein their locality and as far as possible we avoided private properties (the idea is, people should not hesitate to approach the cell). Depending on the strength of the college, we reached upto 40 LAC. Presently with Subject specific clinics and mainly to bring the LAS to manageable size we have brought the strength of LAC to 25. 
I must admit that, I received directorship of the society with the burden of big history, achievements and legacy. The additional challenge I faced was the decision of the College to start subject specific Clinics (as I mentioned above). We started Child Rights Clinic, Prison Clinic and Consumer Rights Clinic. These three clinics ate into pool from which, Legal Aid Society was getting its members (Students of the college). 

To stay ahead of these new challenges and to carry on the legacy, I decided to innovate and start projects. My predecessors were concentrating on Public-Authority interaction programs and solving individual clients’ issues. With introduction of Projects, we qualified ourselves into ‘action research’.
‘LIVE’ ‘Library in Village Education’: I will narrate this one project out of many. This was purely students’ initiative. This all started with a question, ‘why Goans are not doing well in competitive exams?’ as an answer we found that, penetration of libraries in Goa is poor. Many panchayats do not have libraries. This gave rise to LIVE project. This is two year old project (started in the year Sept 2017). We have successfully started three libraries in three panchayats. Five panchayats have shown interest in having libraries, they are under process.

4. Tell me your students’ initiatives in legal aid, awareness, socio-legal issues.
As I mentioned above LIVE is one such initiative. Similarly, few students took up the burden of restarting the functioning of State Human Rights Commission. When State delayed the appointment of members of SHRC, we made petitions to CM and even to NHRC and finally succeeded to start the Commission. We have utilised to the fullest, State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA). Our students’ representation in SPCA actually cleaned up police functioning in Goa.
Project on sale and use of Fire Crackers had two approaches. We wanted to make fire crackers business safer and to minimise the use of fire crackers during festivals. We targeted 80 schools and addressed each classroom, explaining ill effects of fire crackers. Students sensitised children about the effects on stray animals. Similarly, students did research of rules and regulations on sale of fire crackers. It was found that, none of the regulations were followed. We wrote of all municipalities and panchayats and sent a letter to High Court. This communication led to major overhaul of fire crackers business in Goa. 

5. What is the role of higher judiciary in legal aid & awareness in India?
My role as a Director Legal Aid Society has made me to understand that, authority is the key, which helps to open many locks in Government offices. When our LAS decided to work with Jail Authority, we couldn’t proceed due to non-cooperation and practical difficulties. At that time, Bombay High Court came up the direction to clean up Jails in Maharashtra and Goa. Utilising the opportunity, we met the IG (prison). This time, whole process was smooth, because we were empowered by High Court direction. Our work helped many inmates of the jail. 
In my opinion, higher Judiciary needs to grant necessary permissions to the LAS to do work. With suitable permissions we can do miracles. 

6. What is the role of Government in legal aid & awareness in India?
As per Article 38 and 39A providing access to justice is the bounden constitutional duty of the Government. The same duty gets concretised further through the interpretation of Art 14 and 21.  Therefore, the Legal Aid activities of the college are nothing but an outsourced duty of the State. In these circumstances, I feel State should remain at the centre and Colleges, Judiciary and other institutions work around it. 
India is a diverse country; the needs are different for different regions. The history of independent India shows, access to justice has been a distant dream. I do not see any hope in the near future. Therefore, according to me, there is a need for unification of multiple channels of legal aid services. Legal aid advocates under Legal Services Authority Act, Legal Aid Cells of Law Colleges, probono services of private advocates, etc needs to be brought under one umbrella. The connectivity and continuity between all these service providers helps in maximising the impact of the work.

7. What are your views on present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India?
Legal Aid Awareness initiatives are done for the sake of it. Very conservative estimation reveals that at least 30% of population uses android and internet. On the contrary, Legal Aid awareness is bare minimum in virtual world. Another important factor to be kept in mind is, Due to federal structure, legal aid or advice cannot be available pan India. Therefore, there is a need for generation of material area wise. The best way forward is use of internet.
Present legal aid awareness program are done in haphazard manner. Why can’t impact assessment of each program be studied by MSW (Master in Social Work) or sociology students.The scientific study will help us in re-modelling the next program. 
Centrally available topics for legal aid programs are a bad idea. Sometimes, those listed topics won’t appeal to the local public. Therefore, the whole process needs to be turned upside down. Each District or State has to short list the topics and send to central authority for approval. 

8. What are your views on effectiveness of Legal Service Authority Act, 1987?
It has played very limited role. The whole idea suffers from systemic problem. There is a need to revamp the whole system. Such revamping needs to be done innovatively. To make the Act effective is not an easy task. 
No doubt, the law is passed with good intentions. But intentions are not enough. We need strategic approach to make intentions reality. This Act is classic example of presence of good intention and absence of strategy. 

9. What are your views on present situation of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India?
PIL is a creation of Justice Bhagwati. It has played a significant role in driving India on the line of progress. It gave ample opportunity to Court to step into the shoes of executive and legislature. The deterioration of functioning of executive and legislature was coupled with activism of Judiciary. 
Sadly, Public Interest Litigation became politics interest litigation and later it became publicity interest litigation. But recent development is even more worrying as it has reached a stage where, litigants’ publicity is replaced by Judiciary publicity. 
Every idea has currency; once currency expires the idea needs to be given decent burial. I don’t think PIL has reached that stage, but definitely, it needs to be monitored properly.
Having said that, the VMSCL has filed 21 PIL successfully, VMSCL could serve the society better due to presence of the idea of PIL

10. What advise you would like to give to the future Advocates/Professors/Scholars with regards to socio-legal issues, legal aid and awareness initiatives?
I am too small to advice somebody. But I strongly believe that, legal aid can be done by anybody at any stage of practice. It is wrong to succeed in practice first and then provide pro bono service. What is needed is willingness rather than, money to do pro bono service. Secondly and most importantly, advocate is friend of the court first and then representative of the client. This arrangement cannot be reversed. It is important to remember that; advocate has primary duty towards court and later to the client. 

11. Message to ProBono India
ProBono India is doing a great job. It has taken advocacy profession by surprise. The right amount of mixture of experience and youth, technology and law, service and quality will ensure success of this idea of Pro Bono India. 
I wish them all the success.