Salt Lake has become the first township in the state to get a permanent legal counselling centre, constituted of retired judges, for its residents. The measure is a response to the rising number of litigants in the township. Officials say the profile of residents — it is unusual for a Salt Lake resident to take the law into his/her hands — makes the place ideal for a larger-than-usual share of litigants.
“Salt Lake, for instance, is the only place where residents go to court to resolve a dispute over the organisation of a puja,” said a senior Bidhannagar Municipality official.
Many of the litigations cropping up from Salt Lake either found their way to the executive officer’s court or the one located at the district headquarters (Barasat) or even the Calcutta High Court (where the puja dispute is being fought out), he added.
Many of the lawsuits coming from Salt Lake comprise property-related disputes. “Lawsuits are being filed by people who do not get the completion certificates from the municipality, as many of the plots are being transferred illegally,” an official said.
Cases are also being filed against the municipality when sanctions for building plans are refused by the authorities on the same grounds.
Salt Lake also has a “discerning and conscious” population, that takes up issues not really pursued by private citizens anywhere else. Cases up this alley are the public interest litigations filed by residents and residents’ associations (elsewhere, usually only NGOs take up such matters) interested in checking environmental pollution or the rampant felling of trees in the township.
Besides, the pressures of a fast life have led to a growing number of matrimonial suits.
With this backdrop in mind, the Retired Judges’ Association (RJA) hit upon the idea of a non-profit counselling centre. “We will provide free legal consultation to people,” RJA vice-president Ranabir Mahapatra said, adding that the association would also concentrate on the economically-weaker sections of society.
“Most poor people are not aware of their rights guaranteed by law,” he explained. The association is planning to hold its first sitting on November 3. Among the eminent retired judges who are members of the body are Monotosh Ray (president of the association) and Satyanarayan Bhattacharya (former legal adviser to Metro Railway).
The RJA wants to branch out of Salt Lake and take its plans elsewhere in the state too. “Every district judge happens to be the chairman of the district legal services cell and we will be requesting them to spread our message in the districts,” Mahapatra said.
The authorities have welcomed the effort. “It is a good initiative,” said vice-chairman of Bidhanngar Municipality Sudhangshu Sekhar Ganguly, also a former judge of Calcutta High Court.
“In most cases, people don’t know the intricate details of legal procedures and the counselling offered by the Retired Judges’ Association will be of great help,” Ganguly said.
Bharat Sevashram Sangha has donated part of its building at BD-205 to the association for setting up its office.