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Bill on block-level legal aid resurrected

Calcutta, Jan. 21: The government has initiated a fresh move to introduce the Block-level Pre-litigation Conciliation Bill in the next session of the Assembly.

Copies of the Bill were distributed among members during the winter session but the government did not table it fearing resistance from lawyers.

A law department official said the revised Bill would be placed before the legislature for discussion in the budget session. Eminent lawyers, including advocate-general Balai Ray, have been empowered to change the contents of the Bill.

Ray said today the government is initiating a move to set up block-level boards to create awareness among people about the consequences of the cases they were fighting or the ones they were contemplating to contest.

“Each board will have five to seven members, including lawyers. The panchayats will be empowered to prepare the panels that will also comprise eminent residents,” said Ray.

He added that the government’s objective was to provide legal assistance through the boards. “We have no intention to use these boards as quasi-judicial platforms,” he said.

The West Bengal Bar Council, however, described the move as “old wine in a new bottle”. The council said the move was against the interests of the lawyers. It also alleged that the CPM wanted to have “its own men” on the boards and that they would serve the party more than the people.

The chairman of the council executive, Uttam Majumdar, said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had assured them that the lawyers’ representatives would be consulted before initiating further moves on setting up the boards.

“During the last discussion with the chief minister, he had said the formation of the block-level pre-litigation conciliation boards was the brain child of law minister Nisith Adhikari but the government will not take further steps in this regard without consulting the council representatives,” he said.

“It will be wise on the part of government to discuss the matter with the council before initiating any move,” Majumdar added.

A section of the lawyers owing allegiance to the Left parties have also opposed the government on the issue. A member of the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, a lawyers’ forum affiliated to the CPM, said: “The government should have taken a lesson from the 46-day ceasework by the lawyers against the court fee hike.”

Former council chief Saradindu Biswas claimed poor litigants would be the worst sufferers if the boards were constituted. “The law minister has no idea what the outcome of such a move could be. I think he should discuss the matter with his party leaders,” he said.

“There will be cases in which would-be litigants will lose out as these boards will not have the power to issue legal documents.”

A section of the lawyers said the government is trying to follow the Centre in trying to introduce the pre-litigation Bill.

The Centre’s move to introduce lok adalats is facing opposition from lawyers across India and the state’s initiative would meet with the same fate in the hands of the legal community here, they said.

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