The Chief Justice, KG Balakrishnan announced today that free legal aid would be given to all the victims of the terrorist attacks on 26/11. This has come as a welcome move from the president of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

We know that the Indian Constitution under article 39 A guarantees the right to free legal aid to all citizens of the country and this recent act by the Chief justice is another step towards achieving that goal. Now the NALSA will provide all sorts of help to the victims and their families to get compensation, medical treatment, death certificates, Legal heir certificates, identity of missing people, insurance claims, workman compensation, recovering of movable and immovable properties and other benefit schemes from state or central governments.

While I praise this recent move, hysterical that I am, I would have been more impressed if the Chief Justice had announced and declared that there shall be no encumberances to an accused terrorist getting legal aid too. I write this because about precisely a year ago, in Afzal Guru’s case, the issue of legal aid was brought up and statements were made to the effect that ‘he is a terrorist and thus the fact of legal aid not being given to him does not matter’. That is not true; he was an ‘alleged terrorist’ and by virtue of being an Indian citizen he should have got legal aid.

I might have raised quite a few eyebrows by what I’ve said above. But I’d like the readers to fathom the facts that the foundations of our democracy rest of the principles of equality and non-discrimination and merely denying someone legal aid on the charge of being accused as a terrorist is not in consonance with that foundation. I wrote earlier that democracy biggest failure would be it succumbing to the threat of terrorism and modifying its actions based on that threat. That should not be the case.

It would thus have been a pleasure to here the Supreme Court declaring free legal aid even to one accused of terrorism if he cannot find the finances for himself.

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