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Who are entitled to receive free legal aid? Assess the role of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) in rendering free legal aid in India.

Free legal aid is a constitutional right in India, enshrined under Article 39A which mandates the state to ensure justice is not denied due to economic or other disabilities. To materialize this right, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 was enacted, leading to the formation of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

Entitlement to Free Legal Aid:

As per the Legal Services Authorities Act, the following categories of persons are entitled to free legal aid:

  1. Members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.
  2. Victims of human trafficking.
  3. Women and children.
  4. Persons with disabilities.
  5. Victims of mass disasters, violence, flood, drought, earthquake, or industrial disaster.
  6. Persons in custody, including undertrials, convicts, detainees, etc.
  7. Persons whose annual income does not exceed a set limit (as determined by the respective State Government).

Role of NALSA in rendering free legal aid:

  1. Formulating and Implementing Policies: NALSA lays down principles and policies for making legal services available and frames effective and economical schemes for the same.
  2. Organizing Lok Adalats: One of the major initiatives of NALSA has been the organization of Lok Adalats. These are non-adversarial systems where disputes are resolved amicably. Lok Adalats have helped in the speedy resolution of cases and reduced the backlog of cases.
  3. Legal Awareness Programs: NALSA conducts legal awareness programs, making the general public aware of their rights, duties, and remedies available in the law.
  4. Legal Aid Clinics: NALSA has been instrumental in setting up legal aid clinics in villages, jails, and educational institutions to provide basic legal advice and to promote legal literacy.
  5. Training and Development: NALSA coordinates and offers training to legal service advocates and administrators to ensure effective legal service delivery.
  6. Special Initiatives: NALSA has launched several initiatives, such as the NALSA (Legal Services to the Workers in the Unorganized Sector) Scheme and the NALSA (Child-Friendly Legal Services to Children and their Protection) Scheme, targeting specific vulnerable groups in society.
  7. Coordination with State Authorities: NALSA collaborates with State Legal Services Authorities and other NGOs to strengthen the legal aid movement.


NALSA has been pivotal in democratizing access to the legal system in India. Through its various programs, schemes, and interventions, it has brought justice closer to the marginalized and vulnerable sections of society. The organization of Lok Adalats has not only ensured speedy justice but has also provided a cost-effective remedy to litigants. However, there are challenges like the shortage of legal professionals willing to work for legal aid, awareness gaps among citizens about their rights to legal aid, and uneven distribution of legal aid clinics. Yet, NALSA’s proactive role, particularly in recent years, has led to a significant enhancement in the outreach of legal services across India.


The concept of free legal aid is rooted in the principle of equality before the law. While there are areas of improvement, NALSA’s contribution to providing legal aid and ensuring access to justice for the marginalized and downtrodden in India remains commendable.

May 2024