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Dr. Manmohan Singh (Ex-Prime Minster of India) "It gives me great pleasure to be here today to launch the National Legal Literacy Mission. This is an initiative that is very dear to my heart and has my whole-hearted support. I do believe that one of our great strengths is the "rule of law" and the democratic principle of equality in the eyes of law. This constitutional guarantee forms the bedrock of our Republic and all its major institutions.

Our Constitutional commitment to the Rule of Law becomes an empty dream when it is beyond the grasp of the common man. Democracy can effectively flourish only when people know their rights and privileges and also their duties and responsibilities.

However, all the fundamental rights enshrined in Part-III of our Constitution become illusory rights for those who do not understand them and are not aware of them. Equality in law requires equal access to law for this noble principle to translate into reality. I do believe that while low rates of literacy have not come in the way of a high rate of political awareness in our country, they are an important impediment in securing legal rights. The ability of our people to assert their political rights is not balanced by an equal ability to secure their legal rights. This makes it necessary for all of us to increase the citizen's legal literacy. This Mission is a step in the direction of empowering people to enjoy their rights.

The National Common Minimum Programme adopted by our Government underscores the great importance of legal empowerment of all sections of society, particularly those on the margins of our society. These sections include scheduled castes, scheduled, tribes, other backward classes, minorities and, above all, women. Our Government believes that democracy has no meaning for the citizen unless the citizen is able to secure his basic human rights, namely education, employment and the right to live a life of dignity and self-respect.

However, the ignorance of law comes in the way of people asserting their rights and discharging their obligations. If the people do not know the law, how can they be expected to abide by it? This becomes a major hindrance to the successful implementation of any legislation and contributes to violation of laws. A large number of cases of violations are due to low legal literacy.

Article 39A of the Constitution of India gives a directive to the States to ensure that the operation of the legal system does promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity. It directs the State to provide free legal aid with the aid of suitable legislation or schemes. It also directs it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen for reason of economic or other disabilities. If people are aware of their rights and duties, the delivery of justice and balancing of various interests in a society become so much easier. Increase in legal literacy ultimately develops into a transparent and accountable Government truly based on the 'Rule of Law'.

Learned Judges are aware that there have been times, when the Supreme Court of India has played a very important role by delivering certain judgments which have created a new awareness among people about their rights in important spheres of our national life. The media also plays a useful role in educating people about their rights and duties and contributes to increased legal literacy. However, we cannot leave this task to the media alone. For, after all, it is a presumption of law that ignorance of law is no excuse. In other words, no one can plead in a court of law as defence that he or she was unaware of law. This presumption of law creates a duty on the part of Government to make the people aware of laws, which are enacted by the Government. Accordingly, all the laws and the rules and regulations framed thereupon are published in the Government Gazette. In spite of this, due to low literacy, a majority of the population is not aware of its rights and duties.

I do wish to draw the attention of our judiciary and of our officials engaged in drafting laws to the helpful role they can play in enhancing legal literacy by simplifying the language of law, that is of course is the responsibility of the legislature, and that of judicial pronouncements. Sometimes even highly educated people have a problem understanding, and therefore interpreting, the correct meaning of some of our laws. It is difficult to understand them fully without the assistance of a trained lawyer. The complex legal language of our statutes acts as a hurdle to legal literacy. This is compounded by the intricacies of legal language in judicial pronouncements. An attempt should be made to simplify the language of the law so that any one who reads judgements and laws can easily understand their true meaning.

I hope that the "National Legal Literacy Mission" will go a long way in empowering the citizen and in fostering an open society based on the foundations of political awareness, social equality and economic empowerment. I greatly value the objectives that this Mission has set for itself of promoting awareness, redressing social and economic imbalances, ensuring land rights, providing legal aid to the needy, promoting social consciousness with respect to gender equality, social justice, environmental protection, human security, human development and similar other noble objectives. These are all laudable objectives and I sincerely hope your Mission will focus on them. You have my unstinted support.

I wish this Mission all success. Thank you.

* Text of speech delivered by Hon. Dr. Manmohan Singh Prime Minister of India at the launching of National Legal Literacy Mission on 6th March 2005 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi