local_govtAbul Kalam Azad Bhuiyan is a young vibrant Union Parishad member at Muradpur Union, Shitakunda, Chittagong. He returned home to serve his community leaving behind a lucrative job in the Middle East. Being elected the local government representative of Muradpur Union has opened doors for Abul Kalam to address a whole host of issues that would improve the quality of lives of his community people. He takes keen interest in CODEC ’s (a CLS  grantee) legal aid work in his union and tries to work closely with them both to promote their work in the community and also to learn new aspects of community legal services. Better still, in the spirit of partnership the Chairman of Muradpur union has allowed CODEC to operate the free Legal Aid Clinic from within the Union Parishad premises. Abul Kalam is very excited about this arrangement and feels that “it has expanded my horizon.” The relationship is mutuality responsive. CODEC is often invited to observe their village court sessions; moreover, many of their unattended clients are forwarded to CODEC and the NGOs’ Union Paralegal Volunteers are requested to investigate some of the sensitive cases the Village court agrees to mediate. Abul Kalam is so enthusiastic about CODEC’s legal services initiatives that he even volunteered to help a poor CODEC beneficiary who was abandoned by her husband with a child find employment in a local clinic as a support staff in exchange for tk. 3200 monthly salary.

 

Archana, the Programme Officer of CODEC CLS project in Shitakunda emphasizes that support from Local Government elected representatives and local power structure facilitates delivery of legal service in the community and expanding reach to remote areas and among a wide range of people. CODEC has incorporated eighteen of their Legal Aid Clinics at the premises of Union Parishad offices free of rent. Moreover, in three unions under Kolapara, Patuakhali local influential people have lent them free rooms to operate activities of Legal Aid Clinics in the community. However, it is only possible to extract facilities from the local government at such an early stage of the project if the NGO is involved in development activities in the region for a long period of time.

 

Nonetheless, one needs to be careful that the relationship doesn’t become one of dependence and the Union Parishad members becoming exploitative of CODEC. Currently, CODEC runs their Legal Aid Clinics only a few days in a month and the NGO carefully monitors that the operation at the Legal Aid Clinics doesn’t coincide with the sessions of the Village Court.