Lawyers on board to fight poverty in India

UN millennium development goals on agenda, law firms get into the act to start free service to help society tackle poverty and hunger


Manoj Kumar | December 18, 2012

A recent report (read on United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UNMDGs) is interesting, in that it evaluated the progress on the much-discussed millennium goals as a case of shifting goalpost.

World leaders had agreed to the UNMDGs at the UN millennium summit in 2000, and the development goals are specifically focused on reducing global poverty, improving access to education, promoting gender equality, reducing child and maternal mortality, combating HIV, and ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015. They are as follows:

  • MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
  • MDG 4: Reduce child mortality
  • MDG 5: Improve maternal health
  • MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
  • MDG 8: Global partnership for development

But the progress on UNMDGs has been uneven and slow in India. Like most other nations facing development challenges, India is expected to achieve the development goals by 2015 if organisations engaged in implementing development projects get substantial support — advocacy, expertise and resources.

Why the slow progress, and what’s in offing

Law has been identified as a barrier in implementing these projects — primarily owing to poor legal resources available to these organisations at present.
The legal profession in India has a lot to contribute in this regard. 

As part of that responsibility, the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), the apex body of law firms in India, has committed itself to pro bono (or free/voluntary work as public service) by member-firms to meet the target to eradicate poverty in the country.

As part of its ‘professional social responsibility’, SILF has started a joint initiative with Advocates for International Development (A4ID), to enable member law firms to work for the development of the society.

A4ID is a UK-based charity that works on unlocking legal skills to fight global poverty.

SILF and A4ID signed a cooperation memorandum in Dubai last week, which will enable the two organisations to use A4ID’s pro bono broker service between Indian law firms and development organisations in the country.

Among those present at the launch of the SILF-A4ID initiative were heads of some of the best Indian and Dubai-based law firms. The visiting SILF delegation was welcomed by the heads of Dubai Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Courts, Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Financial Services Authority, DIFC Courts and the consul general of India in Dubai.

According to SILF chief Lalit Bhasin, the organisation is committed to professional social responsibility and all its member-firms have shown keen interest in expanding ways in which they are able to give back to the society. Numerous Indian law firms have already been globally recognised for their contribution to the community and this joint initiative with A4ID will help other Indian law firms to emulate the same, Bhasin said.

On the occasion, the A4ID CEO said India is one of the world’s great new powers and continues to grow despite the global economic slowdown but the country still has millions living in poverty. According to A4ID, the organisation passionately believes that by providing free legal advice to development charities, lawyers can make a critical difference to people living in poverty.

The writer is the head of SILF-A4ID joint initiative to provide free legal services to organisations engaged in improving access to basic services for the poorest of poor, and empowering local communities to tackle poverty and to achieve the UNMDGs.



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