Understanding Legal Aid Budgets in India
Recap: A series of dialogues on Law and Justice Budget Data Hosted by: Justice Hub and Civis
#3 Understanding Legal Aid Budgets with Project 39A, 3rd February 2022
Justice Hub and Civis, hosted the 3rd Twitter Spaces conversation with Gale Andrew from Project 39A. Here is a quick snapshot of the Union Budget Data for the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), followed by the highlights of the conversation.
Could you tell us a little bit about your work at Project 39A, and how you got involved in looking at budgets for legal aid?
Project 39A is a criminal justice research and litigation centre at NLU, Delhi. Their research work is focused across five verticals - forensics, mental health and criminal justice, death penalty, torture and legal aid. Their work in legal aid includes:
Fair Trial Fellowship: providing legal assistance to undertrials in Pune and Nagpur in collaboration with the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) and Govt of Maharashtra.
Performance audits of Supreme Court Legal Services Committee (SCLSC): assessing how systemic and administrative issues could be resolved to improve performance.
Studying underutilisation of legal aid among undertrials to showcase how a significant proportion of the eligible population cannot or chooses not to access legal aid (over a period of 4 years, between 2016-19, only 7.91% of the 'inmates admitted' into prisons utilised the legal aid system.)
Project 39A has analyzed the yearly budgetary allocations and expenditures for legal aid to the NALSA and State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) between 2016 and 2019. Could you tell us a little about the process for compiling this information and key findings?
A broad overview of the legal aid hierarchy will exhibit that NALSA is at the top, then SLSAs, DLSAs, and finally Taluka Legal Services Committees (TLSCs). Additionally, there are SCLSC and High Court Legal Services Committee (HCLSC). NALSA, since 2016, releases public statistics on legal aid annually, one of which is a breakdown of expenditures across activities by SLSAs from the NALSA fund which was the focus of the analysis. There were two major findings:
SLSAs consistently underspend funds allotted to them, having spent an average of 58% of the funds allotted by NALSA for the three financial years (2016-17 to 2018-19). While Union Territories like Delhi, have had the lowest utilisation, states like Kerala and Rajasthan have had the highest with just over 99% of the funds.
SLSAs on average spent only 24% of the funds allotted to them on payment to lawyers leading to poor quality of services from legal aid counsels. This spending varies across the states, e.g. the highest being 62% spending by Gujarat whereas Madhya Pradesh spent only 6%.
What could be some reasons for the underutilization of legal aid funds? What are the implications of these findings?
The unavailability of data regarding the system mystifies the reason for underutilisation.
There is a need for the allocated budget to be utilised to resolve issues such as inadequate staffing, infrastructure and resources.
Issues relating to allocation are due to an absence of a proper process. For example, in 2019, Madhya Pradesh spent less than 6% on lawyers and 48% on Lok Adalats (by far the highest - followed by Telangana at 26%). The process behind such allocation is unclear and requires further research.
Underutilisation of funds questions the commitment of these institutions to evolve from being passive bureaucratic establishments to proactive institutes effectively engaging with their beneficiaries.
If I, as a researcher, am interested in doing some budgetary analysis for legal aid in India or my state, how should I go about it?
As budget data isn’t very elaborate regarding specifics of allocation of funds for legal aid, it is a good idea to explore the expenditure data provided by NALSA. It consists of the expenditure analysis (including those by internal resources) and annual financial reports.
For state-level, though SLSA websites provide their statistics, they are far more limited when compared to NALSA and lack consistency between how categories are defined and calculated.
The budget datasets available on the Justice Hub portal are also a great starting point since it gives an overview of the various budgets.
While limited, this is the starting point to think about budgets and expenditure on legal aid in India.
Find the recording of the complete conversation here.
Read previous Substack posts here.
Corrections in "Understanding Police Budgets in India" [Jan 28, 2022]
There were a few errors in the article we sent out on Jan 28, 2022, summarizing the discussion on Police Budgets in India that took place on Jan 27, 2022. It has since been updated to reflect the corrections:
“Out of the total operating expenditure, 18% went towards payroll therefore leaving very little space for capacity building, training and building information systems using technology”. Correction: 80% instead of 18%.
“State police expenditures towards training powers are nearly around 1% of 2% in the state despite the fact that training received by the bulk of the police i.e. the constabulary forming 18% of the police force is very low”. Correction: 80% instead of 18%.