Law schools across India have formally launched a collaborative legal aid clinic to assist all those that have been excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. The clinic has been named “Parichay” and will function as a clearinghouse of litigation and research assistance for lawyers filing appeals against exclusion from the NRC.
Currently, the institutions that are part of ‘Parichay’ include National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam, West Bengal National University of Juridical Science Kolkata, NALSAR Hyderabad, National Law University Delhi, and National Law University Odisha. Other law schools across the country are also in the process of formalising their collaboration in this endeavour.
'Parichay' will assist lawyers in drafting appeals, conduct research on pertinent questions of the law, assist in training lawyers and paralegals, and generate documentation on the functioning of Foreigners’ Tribunals. Law students will work with lawyers to ensure that they are able to file effective appeals before the Foreigners’ Tribunals. Parichay will also collaborate with civil society to provide legal aid to communities.
Speaking about the initiative, Professor (Dr.) JS Patil, Vice-Chancellor of National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam observed, “This is a historically unprecedented collaboration between law schools in India, and we believe that this is necessary to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to legal representation." A press release issued by the Parichay team notes that over 19 lakh people have been excluded from the final list of the NRC that was released on August 31, 2019. Excluded persons may file appeals against their exclusion within a period of 120 days from receipt of their rejection order.
Assam’s final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) left out 19,06,657 number of persons as against the 40.7 lakh people that were excluded when the draft NRC was released on July 30, 2018. Overall, 3,11,21,004 people were found eligible for inclusion in the NRC list.
“After the NRC, absence of effective legal aid would mean that many persons would be rendered stateless without due process. An innovative collaboration like Parichay is essential to prevent such a humanitarian crisis”, says Professor (Dr) Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
Parichay will be headquartered in Guwahati and will work with teams of student volunteers across the country. Students will be selected through a selection process to constitute a core team and a pool of volunteers for research and drafting. The core team will work with the programme director to coordinate Parichay’s activities between lawyers and student volunteers.
“Parichay is an extension of NUJS’s commitment to the provision of legal aid, to fulfil the constitutional mandate under Article 39A of the Constitution of India”, said Dr NK Chakrabarti, Vice-Chancellor of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. “While the Assam government has assured that legal aid will be provided to all, an exercise of this scale requires the participation of law schools and civil society.” Parichay will seek to further India’s obligations under international human rights law.
According to Professor (Dr.). Srikrishna Deva Rao, Vice-Chancellor, National Law University Odisha “Citizenship grants an individual identity in the eyes of the state and allows them to enjoy other human rights. Deprivation of citizenship, therefore, can result in further deprivation of an individual’s basic human rights.” Parichay will also conduct documentation of the NRC exercise. Based on this documentation, Parichay will generate policy recommendations that can inform legal and policy discourse on citizenship laws in India.
"As universities, we have access to resources and networks that can and should be mobilized towards building jurisprudence on one of the most important questions of constitutional and public law faced by the country today, i.e., who is an Indian citizen”, says Professor (Dr.) Ranbir Singh, Vice-Chancellor of NLUD.
Parichay is being supported by the collaborating law schools from within their legal aid budgets. The collaborative looks forward to the participation and support of the larger legal fraternity and civil society.