08Mar2016

Social Justice Calling

Jane Schukoske

Do you know about social welfare laws in India? Knowledge about entitlements from social welfare programs opens doors for people in economic need.  The programs provide a vital safety net for those who know how to claim them.

Who is responsible for reaching out to the disadvantaged with this valuable information?

Legal services authorities (LSAs), active at the district and local level, are duty-bound to spread the word about social welfare programs to the people whom the programs are designed to benefit.  A judge heads the LSA, lawyers provide advice, and paralegal volunteers reach out to the community. Law students and NGOs may assist in the collaboration. People can seek help during weekly LSA office hours, at legal literacy camps, through hotlines, and at trainings in communities and schools.

To mobilize LSAs to address poverty alleviation in their districts, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) launched in 2015 a specific program for the “Effective Implementation of Poverty Alleviation Schemes.” The state LSAs oversee the plans for their jurisdictions.

Mitigating poverty requires that people have access to basic services, including water, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Other help needed may include housing and livelihood, redress for discrimination and social exclusion, and meeting the specific legal needs of women. LSAs survey communities to assess local conditions and legal issues. By working with communities to raise awareness of rights and entitlements under social welfare program, LSAs help people lead more dignified lives with hope for the future.

Each of us would benefit from knowing what LSAs are doing to alleviate poverty in our own areas, so that we can use that knowledge to help our neighbors.  While news and website reports of law school and LSA work typically cover outreach and awareness building, little information is available on successful outcomes for individuals in securing social welfare benefits.  More must be done to inform the public of the results of legal aid efforts.

Law schools and LSAs should post their outreach and results regularly on their websites to educate the public and allow discussion and review.  Have the law schools done enough in their backyards (urban slums or villages) and taken issues to appropriate forums? What improvements in social welfare benefits delivery have LSAs achieved?

Proper implementation of social welfare schemes is the need of the hour, as NALSA’s 2015 directive underscores.  The public should be able to track the progress being made in poverty alleviation.  The next step for law schools and LSAs is to move beyond reporting on outreach and awareness efforts and report the good results of their work on social welfare delivery. All stakeholders will learn from the sharing of best practices.