Interview with Ms. Vijaishree Pandey (Assistant Professor and ALAC Faculty Convenor at Amity Law School Noida, AUUP)

Interview with Ms. Vijaishree Pandey (Assistant Professor and ALAC Faculty Convenor at Amity Law School Noida, AUUP)

  • May 18, 2020
  • Jahnavi Taneja (Student, Amity Law School Noida, AUUP)

Interviewed: Ms. Vijaishree Pandey (Assistant Professor and ALAC Faculty Convenor at Amity Law School Noida, AUUP)

Interviewed By: Jahnavi Taneja (Student, Amity Law School Noida, AUUP)

1. Tell me about yourself /your organisation in brief.
Hello, I am Ms. Vijaishree Pandey working as an Assistant Professor at Amity Law School Noida, Amity University Uttar Pradesh. Our Law School has an Amity Legal Aid Cell (ALAC) working towards the mission of legal aid and awareness. ALAC was established in 2011 inaugurated by Justice Altamas Kabir. It is registered with Gautam Buddha Nagar Legal Services Authority. The first camp of Amity Legal Aid Cell (ALAC) witnessed approximately 300 cases of class 4 employees. 

2. What is the importance of study of Socio-Legal issues in legal field?
In my opinion Socio-Legal is an approach to reach the goal of ultimate justice of a socio-legally equal society. It is a means as well as an end in itself.
It means to provide a ‘safe home’ for Gender, Sexuality and Law scholars beyond their ordinary disciplinary boundaries. This notion has been stated as important by academia in this field and that resonates with traditional activism. We know the notion of ‘safe space’ is important in the construction of a practical and pragmatic approach of legal education and so we should not be surprised that there is a need for a similar space. The fluidity of socio-legal as well as the inclusivity that stems from it is its great strength.
Social angle provides us a window to admit our identity and legal angle provides restitution and provision to bring justice (be it rem or in personam).

3. Tell me about your initiatives in legal aid & awareness field as a law student and now as a professor/ advocate/ chairman/ president etc.
I have been associated with ALAC for more than a decade and now I am heading it as the Faculty Convenor – the best part I find about our ALAC is that all our initiative first emerge from emotion of an individual then becomes a mutual emotion of our ALAC family. We have taken up initiatives like–
• Visits to Orphanages, Old age homes, working with Street Children etc. – this instils compassion in the generation in whose hands lies the future of our country.
• Publication of Book – this forms part of legal literacy mission.
• Organising Seminars and Symposiums , Guest Lectures Etc. – this branches out of our mission of legal awareness.
• Organising Legal Aid Camps – to help people from all walks of life and giving students hands-on experience.

4.Tell me your students’/team’s / associates’ etc. initiatives in legal aid, awareness, socio-legal issues.
I can never get tired of mentioning this – “our students are our strength”. They surprise me with their maturity, their plans for ALAC and the ideas they come up with, they give me hope for the future.
I am so grateful to lead a family of more than 200 members. Our core team comprises of approximately 30 students and the members under working committees of ALAC are comprised of upto 200 students.We have 10 teams divided amongst office bearers, coordinators and members.
Our students have conducted rakhi-making competitions and such other fun cultural activities to celebrate festivals with orphanages, old-age home visits and school-visits. Any initiative that is university’s is as such as theirs as ours and vice versa. We move ahead as a team, rather a family.
We have a very strong social engagement as well through various social media platforms:
 ALAC Facebook Page: Amity Legal Aid Cell -
 ALAC Instagram Handle: @amity_legal_aid_cell
 ALAC Blog:
 ALAC Twitter: @alac_alsnoida

5. What is the role of higher judiciary in legal aid and awareness in India?
The Supreme Court of India got a major opportunity to make an emphatic pronouncement regarding the rights of the poor and indigent in judgment of Hussainara Khatoon Case where the petitioner brought to the notice of Supreme Court that most of the under trails have already under gone the punishment much more than what they would have got had they been convicted without any delay. The delay was caused due to inability of the persons involved to engage a legal counsel to defend them in the court and the main reason behind their inability was their poverty. Thus, in this case the court pointed out that Article 39-A emphasized that free legal service was an inalienable element of reasonable, fair and just procedure and that the right to free legal services was implicit in the guarantee of Article 21.
It was reiterated in the case of Suk Das v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh and Khatri v. State of Bihar- “The right to free legal services is an essential ingredient of reasonable, fair and just procedure for a person accused of an offence and it must be held implicit in the guarantee of Article 21 and the State is under a constitutional mandate to provide a lawyer to an accused person if the circumstances of the case and the needs of justice so require…The State cannot avoid this obligation by pleading financial or administrative inability or that none of the aggrieved prisoners asked for any legal aid.”
Justice Bhagwati has been a torch bearer is setting a benchmark for the judiciary and reiterating the role of judiciary as a guardian of the constitutional rights of the people of India. In my opinion, Courts and especially higher judiciary has an immense role to play as they can promote Legal Aid directly in their judgments as well as leading by example.

6. What is the role of Government in legal aid and awareness in India?
All organs of the Government (be it legislature, executive or judiciary) play a supplementary and complimentary role in bringing forth the change and encouraging the legal aid and awareness in India. 
In my opinion, Government needs to provide some substantive financial help to legal aid cells working at various levels. There is neither proper mechanism to help legal aid cells at ground level nor proper guidelines by the government on their working. No implementation and check renders the whole structure meaningless and justice is lost in the inefficiency.

7. What are your views on present situation of legal aid and awareness initiatives in India?
Legal aid is not a charity or bounty, but is an obligation of the state and right of the citizens. The focus of legal aid is on distributive justice, effective implementation of welfare benefits and elimination of social and structural discrimination against the poor. It works in accordance with the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which acts as the guideline of the rendering of free justice. The prime object of the state should be “equal justice for all”. 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 in spite of the fact that free legal aid has been held to be necessary adjunct of the rule of law, the legal aid movement has not achieved its goal. There is a wide gap between the goals set and met. 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.
The legal aid system in India has proven ineffective. There are four main reasons why the National Legal Services Authorities has not been able to deliver real legal aid:
• there is a general lack of awareness of the availability of legal aid;
• there is a perception that free service is incompatible with quality service;
• there are not enough lawyers delivered by the legal services authorities, and
• lawyers generally are uninterested in providing competent legal assistance because of financial constraints.

8. What are your views on effectiveness of Legal Services Authority Act, 1987?
Though there was a statutory procedure providing free legal aid by appointing the advocate for defending criminal case and by exempting court fees in civil cases, it was not really making any significant impact on the ability of the underprivileged people to get the judicial redressal for their grievances. Hence under tremendous constitutional persuasion from the Supreme Court the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was passed by the parliament of India. The Act prescribes the criteria for giving legal services to the eligible persons. It makes a person eligible for assistance under the act if he is a SC/ST, beggar, woman, child, disabled persons and many others as mentioned in the Act.
Legal Services Authorities after examining the eligibility criteria of an applicant and the existence of a prima facie case in his favour provide him counsel at State expense, pay the required Court Fee in the matter and bear all incidental expenses in connection with the case. The person to whom legal aid is provided is not called upon to spend anything on the litigation once it is supported by a Legal Services Authority.
A nationwide network has been envisaged under the Act for providing legal aid and assistance. National Legal Services Authority is the apex body constituted to lay down policies and principles for making legal services available under the provisions of the Act and to frame most effective and economical schemes for legal services. In every State a State Legal Services Authority is constituted to give effect to the policies and directions of the Central Authority (NALSA) and to give legal services to the people and conduct Lok Adalats in the State. State Legal Services Authority is headed by the Chief Justice of the State High Court who is its Patron-in-Chief. A serving or retired Judge of the High Court is nominated as its Executive Chairman.

District Legal Services Authority is constituted in every District to implement Legal Aid Programmes and Schemes in the District. The District Judge of the District is its ex-officio Chairman. Taluk Legal Services Committees are also constituted for each of the Taluk or Mandal or for group of Taluk or Mandals to coordinate the activities of legal services in the Taluk and to organize Lok Adalats. Every Taluk Legal Services Committee is headed by a senior Civil Judge operating within the jurisdiction of the Committee who is its ex-officio Chairman. In order to provide free and competent legal service, the NALSA has framed the National Legal Service Authority (Free and competent Legal service) Regulations, 2010. The salient feature of Regulation is engaging senior competent lawyers on payment of regular fees in special cases like where the life and liberty of a person are in jeopardy. Supreme Court of India has also set up Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC) to ensure free legal aid to poor and under privileged under the Legal Services Authorities Act. It is headed by a judge of Supreme Court of India and has distinguished members nominated by Chief justice of India. The SCLSC has a panel of competent Advocates on record with certain minimum number of years of experience who handle the cases in the Supreme Court. Apart from that the SCLSC has full time Legal Consultant who provides legal advise to poor litigants either on personal visit or through the post.
In my opinion, the Act is fairly neutral on the pragmatic side but it emphasises more on merely recognising and declaring the law as it is for the legal aid in India.

9. What are your views on present situation of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India?
I staunchly support the concept of the Public Interest Litigations (PIL). My personal observation, and readings have always led me to believe that honest and sincere petitions always bring fruitful results. Students of our college – Mr. Paras Jain and Mr. Kumar Shanu have done Amity so proud and at the same time made us believe in the power of PILs as well as the trained youth.
The aim of PIL is to give to the common people access to the courts to obtain legal redress. PIL is an important instrument of social change and for maintaining the Rule of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.The original purpose of PILs have been to make justice accessible to the poor and the marginalised.
It is an important tool to make human rights reach those who have been denied rights.It democratises the access of justice to all. Any citizen or organisation who is capable can file petitions on behalf of those who cannot or do not have the means to do so.It helps in judicial monitoring of state institutions like prisons, asylums, protective homes, etc.
It is an important tool for implementing the concept of judicial review.Enhanced public participation in judicial review of administrative action is assured by the inception of PILs.
Every coin as two sides to it, thus PILs have certain weaknesses as well – PIL actions may sometimes give rise to the problem of competing rights. For instance, when a court orders the closure of a polluting industry, the interests of the workmen and their families who are deprived of their livelihood may not be taken into account by the court.It could lead to overburdening of courts with frivolous PILs by parties with vested interests. PILs today has been appropriated for corporate, political and personal gains. Today the PIL is no more limited to problems of the poor and the oppressed.Cases of Judicial Overreach by the Judiciary in the process of solving socio-economic or environmental problems can take place through the PILs.PIL matters concerning the exploited and disadvantaged groups are pending for many years. Inordinate delays in the disposal of PIL cases may render many leading judgments merely of academic value.

10. What advise would you like to give to the future Advocates/Professors/Scholars with regards to socio-legal issues, legal aid and awareness initiatives?
As a professor, I pray for all my students and all the law students and In sincerely hope they are blessed with the wisdom of knowing right from wrong along with the courage to follow the right path, no matter how hard it may seem. I always emphasise on this one learning – “one must know that they are responsible towards the society” – once we understand the essence of this, we will automatically see how right, responsibility and duties are all supplementary and complimentary to each other.
I narrate stories of great reformers to my students and I specifically point out that majorly the commonality between the great reformers is that either they are great lawyers or they harbour great knowledge of law – “law is a tool or means to the ultimate goal to justice” – I hope all my students win whatever battles they choose to pick, and I hope they are blessed with good sense, sincerity and a drive to be the change they want to see in the world.

11. Message to ProBono India.
I wish ProBono all the very best in their endeavour, it’s a great platform for learning, reading, researching, uniting and for law students to brush up every skill that they will surely need in their career ahead. I wish good luck to ProBono India, keep training law students with all your might. I hope you always try to instill the following in the students and contribute to their personality holistically:
• Love your work
• Be honest with it
• Understand your responsibility towards society.