Interview with Ms. Kavitha Balakrishnan, HoD, School of Legal Studies & Legal Aid Coordinator, Kannur University, Kerala

Interview with Ms. Kavitha Balakrishnan, HoD, School of Legal Studies & Legal Aid Coordinator, Kannur University, Kerala

1. Tell me about yourself and your organization in brief.
I am Kavitha Balakrishnan, Head of the Department and former Dean,School ofLegal Studies,Kannur University, Kerala.Our institution was started in the year 1996.At that time,it was part of Calicut University and later on affiliated to Kannur University. BA.LL.B.,LL.M and Ph.D courses are offered here. This is the Law Department of Kannur University and only legal educational institution of North Malabar area of Kerala.

2. What is the importance of study of Socio-legal issues in legal field?
Justice delivery is the prime aim of law and justice and is not only for the aggrieved persons but also for the society at large. Without proper understanding of the society the justice administration system as such becomes a mockery. So, studying the socio-legal issues in the budding stage itself will help the law students to understand the relation between law and society and can become good social engineers in future. Peripheral resolution of issues from the court will not be appropriate to resolve a social issue, on the contrary, analysing and addressing the underlying social issue along with application of law would result in satisfactory resolution. For example if there is an increase of theft during the COVID lock down period ,the court while addressing the issue  should keep in mind  why theft is increasing in this particular time. If it is only applying the law like a machine then justice will not be upheld. For attaining this goal, judicial officers must be well versed in theory of Justice.

3. Tell me about your initiatives in legal aid& awareness field as a law student and now as professor?
While studying LL.B at Govt.Law College, Thrissur,I was a part of legal aid clinic.During Christmas vacation, we used to conduct legal aid camps of 10 days duration at remote villages. A group of four students were allotted a portion of the village .There were 10 such groups. We  visited each house and  provided legal awareness.Every evening, talk by eminent jurists of the district were there.Last two days were reserved for conducting Adalats to settle legal issues of the villagers. While pursuing  LL.M at School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology,legal aid was part of curriculum. There also, we used to provide legal aid among villagers .After becoming law teacher, I became coordinator of legal aid. A lot of poor people are approaching our clinic for legal assistance and we routinely engage in legal awareness campaigns .

4. Tell me your student’s/team’s/associate’s etc. initiative in legal aid, awareness, socio-legal issues.
Our institution namely School of Legal Studies, Kannur University, Kerala have a Legal Aid Clinic, which has been providing legal aid to the people living in the locality of the institution since its establishment. Every student in the institution is permitted to support the functioning of the legal aid clinic, but to achieve a systematic manner of performance of the clinic,concerned teachers routinely report to me about day to day activity of the clinic. We have selected 10 students from the LL.B. classes and two students from the LL.M. classes for being part of the legal aid clinic. There is a permanent office for the legal aid clinic and the public is permitted to approach the legal aid clinic volunteers personally for legal advice and other legal services during afternoon session of every three days in a week (Monday, Wednesday & Friday). In consultation with District Legal Service Authority, Thalassery, many students have been selected as Para-Legal-Service-Volunteers .Following are some of the initiatives in the legal aid and awareness programs that my team has done through the legal aid clinic.We had approached the State Child Right Commission against the inhumane practise of private bus operators in not permitting students who are travelling at concessional rates,to enter the bus till they are about to depart, secured a favourable order directing equal treatment for students on par with other passengers. Following are some of our initiatives.
a)Conducted Legal awareness classes for college students and students of different departments under Kannur University.
b) In the most unfortunate event of flood in Kerala many people lost their certificates, identity cards and many other legally valuable documents. My team took effort for helping those needy people to obtain duplicate copies of their lost documents.
c) In collaboration with the MCA department students of Kannur University, my team took effort  to develop a software for helping the government organizations and other non-governmental organizations in collecting data of people who had suffered losses during the flood and also data related to collection of food and other essential materials for the victims of the flood disaster.
d) Many people approach our legal aid clinic for legal advice and for clarifications. My team, after perusing the documents and facts stated by the aggrieved persons, will refer the appropriate cases to the DLSA, Thalassery and a student from the legal aid clinic will be entrusted with the duty to follow up the case and to report the same to the clinic. 

Other activities include:-
e) Giving Free Legal Aid to the People in need
f) Conducting Law Fests.
g) Seminar on “Preamble of the Constitution of India: Importance and Relevance” on 26th November 2016.
h) Seminar on “Human Rights: Indian Perspective in 21st Century” on 9th December 2016 in connection with Human Rights Day.
i) “Professional Development Training Programme” on 20th May 2017.
j) Seminar on “Right to Information Act” on 22nd  June 2017.
k) Seminar on “Supreme Court on Right to Privacy in India: Concept and Evolution” on 27th September 2018.
l) Seminar on “Child Labour” on June 12, 2019.
m) Awareness on “ADR Mechanisms” for Final year students on January 29th 2020.
n) Classes  on “Domestic Violence” at Local Bodies.
o) Legal Awareness to students in Schools and Colleges in Kannur District.
p) Assistance in renovation of a house at Anthikkad which was destroyed during flood of 2018.

5. What is the role of Higher judiciary in legal aid & awareness in India?
Higher judiciary have to play vital role in the legal aid and awareness in India. The activist judges in India like Justice Krishna Iyer, along with Justice P.N. Bhagavathi, had paved the way for the Human rights jurisprudence and the development of the legal aid and awareness in India..If legal aid camps and other legal awareness programs are organized among the vulnerable sections of the society like women, children, scheduled casts and scheduled tribes, that will help to boost the legal awareness among the weaker section. Now the legal service authorities are working from the grass root level to deliver justice to the door steps of the weaker sections of the society. If there is no effective guidance and support from the higher judiciary for legal awareness and legalaid programs of the legal service authorities.They cannot achieve their desired objectives..

6. What is the role of Government  in legal aid and awareness in India?
India is a country with vast cultural diversity. Many religions coexist in India such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and many more. In India people of all religions live together. Pluralism in India is a unique feature.Majority of our citizens are not aware of their legal rights due to illiteracy and economic instability. They were not provided with basic legal awareness connected with our legal system. Since ignorance of law is not an excuse,the State has got an added responsibility to provide proper legal awareness from the grass root level itself. That isevery citizen must be aware about the laws enacted in our legal system. This presumption is fulfilled only through imparting proper legal education and legal awareness at grass root level and it must be accessible to each and every individual in the society.
Another proposition of our legal system is every citizen can access justice without any discrimination. Legal aid to the poor is necessary for the preservation of rule of law which is essential for the existence of an orderly society. It implies giving free legal service to the poor and needy who cannot afford the service of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or legal proceeding in any court or any authority.  Unless  and until the poor illiterate man is not legally assisted, he is denied equal opportunity to seek justice. Legal aid is not a charity it is an obligation or responsibility of the state towards its citizens. Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution directs the State to provide free legal aid to economically backward classes. In M.H Hoskot v.State of Maharashtra(AIR 1978 SC 1548) the honourable Supreme Court of India has underscored this aspect and declared that right to free legal aid is a Fundamental Right enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The main aim of the legal aid is distributive justice, i.e. access to justice for all without any discrimination.
Since 1952, the Govt of India also started addressing  the question of legal aid for the poor in various conferences of Law Ministers and Law Commissions. In 1960 some guidelines were drawn by the Govt for legal aid schemes. In different States legal aid schemes were floated through legal aid boards, societies and law departments. In 1980, a committee at the national level was constituted to supervise the legal aid programmes throughout the country under the chairmanship of Hon. Justice P.N Bhagawati, judge of Supreme Court of India. The committee came to be known as CILAS (Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes) and started monitoring legal aid activities throughout the country.
Legal Service Authorities Act -1987 is an important initiative on the part of the Government to constitute legal service authorities for providing free and competent legal services to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice were not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.

7. What are your views on the present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India?
Legal aid is the obligation of the State and the right of a citizen. Thus, legal aid strives to ensure that the constitutional pledge is fulfilled in its letter and spirit and equal justice is made available to the downtrodden and weaker sections of the society. But when analysing the present situation of legal aid the system is proven to be ineffective.
The major obstacle to the legal aid movement in India is the lack of legal awareness. People are still not aware of their basic rights due to which the legal aid movement has not achieved its goal yet. It is the absence of legal awareness which leads to exploitation and deprivation of rights and benefits of the poor Their ignorance prevents them from forestalling legal troubles and consulting a lawyer for consultation and taking legal advice in time. Their poverty multiplies the impact of legal problems and difficulties. It is suggested that it is the need of the hour that the poor illiterate people should be imparted with legal knowledge and should be educated on their basic rights which should be done from the grass root level of the country. One should need to focus on effective and proper implementation of the laws which are already in place instead of passing new legislations to make legal aid in the country a reality instead of just a myth in the minds of the countrymen. Other obstacles in the path of administration of legal aid is that there is a perception that free service is incompatible with quality service; The shortage of competent lawyers empanelled by the legal service authorities and the lack of interest on part of lawyers due to financial constraints is also another problem faced in India. These shortcomings have to be effectively addressed if the constitutional pledge of equal justice for all is to be achieved.

8. What are your views on effectiveness of Legal Service Authorities Act,1987?
Our nation adopted a Constitution in which the rule of law prevails. It assumes the presumption that all citizens of India will stand on equal status irrespective of his religion, caste, gender or social status. Though this is the legal framework of our Constitution, regarding access to law for the people, it poses a remarkable difference between the rich and the poor as well as the weaker section of the people in India. To enforce the legal rights of the people access of the court of law is inevitable. In practice though all the citizens of India can approach a court of law for enforcing their legal rights from the mofussil court to the Supreme Court of India; to engage a lawyer to submit his case is not affordable for the weaker sections. In order to overcome this stigma the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 has been enacted by the Parliament of India.
Apart from providing free legal aid to the weaker sections and women ,the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is performing various other activities for the uplift of the weaker sections and the women. One of the main functions of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 is to impart legal awareness to the public, specifically to the weaker sections. It is true that the rule of law prevails but in the curriculum not much importance is given for the study of law. In order to overcome this stigma, the Legal Services Authorities is taking various steps to impart legal awareness to the public at large through its various organs spread all over India.
Prior to the enactment of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 legal aid to the weaker sections has been implemented through the administrative authorities of the Government. It has been noted that providing legal aid to the poor through the executive machinery of the government is not at all effective and therefore as per the Legal Services Authorities Act implementation of the Legal Services has been conferred upon the judiciary. 
Since the courts and the various agencies of the Legal Services Authority are functioning with concurrent powers, the various objectives of the Legal Services Authorities Act are being effectively carried out. 
Apart from free legal aid the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 also provides financial assistance to the victims of the offences against the weaker sections and is also functioning as an agency for providing monetary assistance to them. Legal services authorities are effectively assisting in availing the statutory benefits available under various Acts including compensation under the labour laws and Motor Vehicles Act. A majority of the population are not aware of the legal benefits available to them in the case of retrenchment by their employers. When an FIR is lodged in a motor accident the concerned legal services authority enlighten the victim of the accident about the compensation available to them.
Through the various organs of the Legal Services Authority right from the NALSA headed by the senior most Judge of the Supreme Court of India to the Legal services Committee at the Taluk level headed by the senior civil judge at the Taluk level the various provisions of the Act has been effectively implemented throughout the nation.

9. What are your views on present situation of public Interest Litigation(PIL) in India?
The idea of  ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from American jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups like the poor, the racial minorities, unorganised consumers, citizens who were passionate about the environmental issues, etc.Public Interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”, such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Constructional hazards etc. Any matter where the interest of public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law.Public interest litigation is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism. However, the person filing the petition must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the petition is being filed for a public interest and not just as a frivolous litigation by a busy body. The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and proceed suo-motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public spirited individual.
The seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially sown in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha v. Abdul Thai.A new era of the PIL movement was heralded by Justice P.N. Bhagawati in the case of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India. Factors like the character of the Indian Constitution, progressive social legislations, liberal interpretation of locus standi etc helped the growth of PIL in India.
Public Interest Litigation has produced astonishing results which were unthinkable few decades ago. Degraded bonded labourers, tortured under trials and women prisoners, humiliated inmates of protective women’s home, exploited children, beggars, and many others have been given relief through judicial intervention. The greatest contribution of PIL has been to enhance the accountability of the Governments towards the human rights of the poor. The PIL develops a new jurisprudence of the accountability of the State for constitutional and legal violations adversely affecting the interests of the weaker elements in the community.
It is of no doubt that public interest litigation has historically been an innovative judicial procedure for enhancing the social and economic rights of disadvantaged and marginalized groups in India. In recent years, however, a number of criticisms of public interest litigation have emerged, including concerns related to separation of powers, judicial capacity, and inequality. Further, overuse and abuse of PIL tends to make it stale and ineffective. Since it is an extraordinary remedy available at a cheaper cost to all citizens of the country, it is being used by litigants as a substitute for ordinary ones or as a means to file frivolous complaints. Public interest litigation is still in its experimental stage. Many deficiencies in handling this kind of litigation are likely to come to the front, which can be removed by innovative techniques.

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?
Advocates are an integral part of administration of justice. There are about 20 lakh advocates in India. Most of them go through a difficult period to become stable in the profession. After attaining stability, many are interested only in making financial gains. Advocates should rather understand their noble function of assisting the court in the administration of justice in a speedy and effective manner. They should not view the lakhs of pending cases as an opportunity to make more money rather they should be alarmed that due to this slow and ineffective system people may lose their faith in the judicial system which will cause more problems to advocates and the legal fraternity. Professors and scholars who mould the young law students can play a greater role in imparting values of social responsibility in their students. They should instil in the students the need for a judicial system were the poor and rich are equally willing to entrust their complaints and suits to the state. The legal fraternity may not be able to alleviate poverty and illiteracy but they can do a lot in imparting basic legal knowledge and providing legal aid to the poor and needy.

11. Message to ProBono India?
Society and law are inexplicably intertwined entities. A platform like pro bono India can traverse deeply into society and can disseminate legal awareness among disadvantaged group. Activities of this platform should be moulded in such a way that marginalized sections of the society also have access to it.Legal journalism is a novel area which is very helpful to researchers. Steps taken by pro bono India is in right direction. I hope it will go a long way in   revamping legal education and disseminating legal awareness in coming days.