By Jose Abraham
New Delhi, Dec. 29, 2018: Access to competent legal services is too costly for many Indians to afford, especially for people on the move. Migrants, within and outside the country, lack normal support systems to approach the legal system.
It was with the purpose of assisting such people to have access to judicial platforms and receive justice that Pravasi Legal Cell was formed. Pravasi legal cell, a group of lawyers, academics, social activists, was inaugurated in February 2009 by Christy Fernandes, secretary to the then President of India.
Pravasi legal cell works with the objective of empowering people with the power of law. It believes that no one should suffer injustice for lack of access to competent and efficient legal service. In the last ten years, Pravasi Legal Cell has helped hundreds of individuals to seek justice, all on pro bono basis.
Moreover, Pravasi legal cell has taken up major issues of social concern at the national level. Bringing such matters to the attention of the concerned ministries and various High Courts and the Supreme Court is another area of legal intervention that Pravasi legal cell makes.
We also believe that empowering people on legal front is not possible without educating people about their rights and the laws that protect those rights. Thus legal awareness programs is another major area of intervention for Pravasi legal cell.
It keeps conducting seminars, workshops, and trainings across the country on various common laws that affect the common people like, RTI, POCSO, Labor Laws, Consumer rights, Workplace harassment, Emigration Act etc.
Pravasi legal cell is a registered national level NGO having its registered office in Delhi. Though Pravasi legal cell began its work mainly focusing on issues of migrants in Delhi, today it is a national organisation having advocates and social activists as volunteers across the country.
It has state level chapters in many states in the country. It is also associated with various Indian associations in different countries across the globe.
Pravasi legal cell began its journey in 2009 by assisting individuals to approach courts and other commissions demanding their rights. A major issue of social concern that Pravasi legal cell took up in the initial years was the practice of labor bond in the private medical sector in India.
Education certificates of the nursing professionals working in such hospitals were withheld by the hospital authorities and they were made to sign a contract to work in the same institution for 1-3 years. This resulted in the nursing professionals being treated as slaves and their payment scale and working conditions deteriorated to abysmal levels.
Pravasi legal cell took up this matter before the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India and won favorable judgments from the Courts. As a result, the Union Government banned such practices across the country and issued notices to such effect.
Following this, the lot of the nursing community in the private medical sector improved drastically. The empowered and emboldened nurses then took to demanding their rights as professionals. With this single initiative, Legal cell could bring relief and cheer to thousands of families across India.
As this news spread, people started approaching the Pravasi legal cell with divergent matters of exploitation and rights’ violations.
In the following years, Pravasi legal cell took up divergent matters like, theft in the trains, exploitation by property mafias in Delhi, concerns of the inmates in the Tihar prisons, the issue of missing persons in the country, issues related to NRI marriages, exploitation related to recruitment for overseas jobs, exclusion of NRIs from the RTI Act, the right for free legal aid for Indian emigrants, issues connected with repatriation and domestic transportation of dead bodies and other matters.
Issues related to overseas marriages and repatriation of mortal remains of the Indian emigrants are two major issues that Pravasi legal cell is currently dealing with. The plight of Indian wives abandoned by NRI husbands is a source of major concern for India.
Legal remedy is not an easy option in such cases due to the involvement of international laws and the distant geographies. Many a time, the NRI husbands also go untraceable. Pravasi legal cell is trying to convince the government to make policy changes and bring in stringent actions to get hold of such erring husbands.
Another major concern faced by Indian emigrants is the repatriation of mortal remains. The absence of proper regulation regarding pricing by airlines, inordinate delay for repatriation, issues involved in claiming compensations and other dues of the dead, the inhumane treatment of dead bodies during transportation are a few major concerns related to the matter.
Representations have been made to the ministries and Public Interest litigations have been filed in various High Courts and the Supreme Court of India on both the matters. Research is underway to take this matter to the Parliament.
Pravasi legal cell was focusing mainly on the issues of the migrant Indians, both domestic and international until now. It was recently that a foreign embassy in Delhi approached Pravasi Legal Cell seeking legal assistance for a citizen of theirs in the country. (This case is attached separately.)
This is another area neglected within the country and needs high levels of expertise and skills to deal with. Language and distance become challenges while assisting foreign citizens stranded or imprisoned across India.
The Pravasi Legal Cell feels competent and confident to provide necessary legal assistance to foreign nationals in India. We realize that when it comes to the issues of migrants, they are all faced similarly – the source country doesn’t matter much in most of the cases.
Thus Pravasi Legal Cell, as an immediate goal, seeks to expand its services to foreign nationals in India and to expand its network by getting associated with various Indian and international organisations working on migrants’ issues.
(Jose Abraham, an advocate based in New Delhi, is the president of the Pravasi Legal Cell.)