Indian legal system

Cutting the jargon: Here's a website that translates Indian laws into simple English

Built on the Wikipedia model and launched on November 3, Nyaaya also has guides for crime victims and accused.

India has more than a thousand central laws, a larger number of state laws and a criminal justice system so complex, most of the population struggles to navigate it. A year ago, Delhi-based lawyer Srijoni Sen decided to make this system a little easier for the masses, one step at a time. The outcome of her project is Nyaaya.in, a website that describes itself as “India’s first free online repository of every central and state law, explained in simple English”.

Launched on November 3, Nyaaya.in has a simple mandate: to catalogue every single central and state law, translate important laws from legalese to simple, lay-man’s language, and offer comprehensive guides to help both victims and accused understand the police and court systems.

A screen shot from Nyaaya.in's guide to the law on domestic violence: the original law is on the left and the annotations are on the right.
A screen shot from Nyaaya.in's guide to the law on domestic violence: the original law is on the left and the annotations are on the right.

The website has, so far, catalogued the transcripts of 773 central laws and annotated guides to 10 prominent criminal laws, including those on domestic violence, caste atrocities, corruption, child sexual abuse and terrorism. The guides, for both victims and accused, come in the form of frequently asked questions, with minimalistic icons and graphics.

“Laws are not written with user experience in mind, and that is what we wanted to address through an interactive website,” said Sen, the chief executive officer of Nyaaya. “The idea was to open up laws for citizens.”

Modelled on Wikipedia

Sen studied law at Bangalore’s National Law School and Columbia University in the United States, but also spent three years as a business analyst with McKinsey. The idea for Nyaaya came to her last year, when she was working with the Vidhi Centre, a legal policy think tank in Delhi.

Sen’s work at the centre involved legal research and assisting the government with framing better laws, but she realised there was still a need to simplify laws and make them more accessible to the public. An opportunity to act on this idea came soon enough: Rohini Nilekani, the founder of water rights non-profit Arghyam, had set up the India Water Portal as an open access website to share knowledge about water resources, and she was keen fund a similar initiative in the legal sphere. Incubated by Nilekani and the Vidhi Centre, Sen soon began the set up of Nyaaya as a full-time venture.

By August, Sen had assembled a core team of three lawyers and two engineers to build the platform. They roped in more than 30 contributors – law students, legal experts and designers from around the country – who helped conceptualise, write and categorise the content of Nyaaya. Within three months, the team had made enough progress to launch the website, said Sen.

Three of Nyaaya's five core team members: Nidhisha Philip, Srijoni Sen and Kunal Rachhoya. Photo courtesy Nyaaya.in
Three of Nyaaya's five core team members: Nidhisha Philip, Srijoni Sen and Kunal Rachhoya. Photo courtesy Nyaaya.in

She, however, added that Nyaaya was still very much a work in progress, with hundreds of laws yet to be covered.

The idea, she said, was to create an online encyclopaedia of India’s legal system, using the Wikipedia model of crowd-sourced content. “Nyaaya will be like a modified Wiki that anyone can contribute to and anyone can help clean up, with the core team ensuring quality control,” she said.

Keeping it simple

While there are other websites, such as Indian Kanoon, that offer a searchable database of Indian laws and court judgements, Nyaaya stands out for its use of succinct, simple language to explain legal jargon.

“In countries like the US and Canada, there is a plain language movement in the past few years to make sure laws are written simply,” said Nidhisha Philip, a former corporate lawyer who is now the content lead at Nyaaya. “In India, we haven’t seen that kind of a push yet, but we’re trying to do that on Nyaaya.”

The guides for crime victims and crime accused focus on explaining relevant sections of the Criminal Procedure Code in simple terms. They answer basic questions that a victim or an accused would have – such as “what happens once I report a crime”, “what happens once a case goes to court”, “how does a criminal case start”, and “what are your rights at the time of arrest”.

Sen said, “We settled on these questions after talking to loads of criminal lawyers and other experts who often get these questions from their clients.”

Next, regional languages

Sen and her team have elaborate plans to take Nyaaya forward. In the short run, they will be developing annotated guides for many more laws that are commonly used by citizens. They also plan to take a closer look at state laws, many of which are currently difficult to find online.

“Also, a lot of government notifications, circulars and discussions on laws often end up all over the place, in different government departments,” said Sen. “We plan to put at least the most important of those documents in one place.”

Most significant, of course, is Nyaaya’s language plan. For now, the site is only in English. “But we are planning to translate the content in regional languages soon,” said Sen.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Want to retire at 45? Make your money work for you

Common sense and some discipline are all you need.

Dreaming of writing that book or taking that cruise when you hit your 40s? Well this dream need not be unrealistic.

All it takes is simple math and the foresight to do some smart financial planning when you are still young. If you start early and get into the discipline of cutting down on unnecessary expenditure, using that money to invest systematically, you can build wealth that sets you free to tick those items off your bucket list sooner than later.

A quick look at how much you spend on indulgences will give you an idea of how much you can save and invest. For example, if you spend, say Rs. 1,000 on movie watching per week, this amount compounded over 10 years means you would have spent around Rs 7,52,000 on just movies! You can try this calculation for yourself. Think of any weekly or monthly expense you regularly make. Now use this calculator to understand how much these expenses will pile up overtime with the current rate of inflation.

Now imagine how this money could have grown at the end of 10 years and overcome the inflation effect if you had instead taken a part invested it somewhere!

It is no rocket science

The fact is that financial planning is simpler than we imagine it to be. Some simple common sense and a clear prioritization of life’s goals is all you need:

  1. Set goals and work backwards: Everything starts with what you want. So, what are your goals? Are they short-term (like buying a car), medium-term (buying a house) or long-term (comfortable living post-retirement). Most of us have goals that come under all the three categories. So, our financial plans should reflect that. Buying a house, for example, would mean saving up enough money for up-front payment and ensuring you have a regular source of income for EMI payment for a period of at least 15-20 years. Buying a car on the other hand might just involve having a steady stream of income to pay off the car loan.
  2. Save first, spend later: Many of us make the mistake of putting what is left, after all our expenses have been met, in the savings kitty. But the reverse will have more benefits in the long run. This means, putting aside a little savings, right at the beginning of the month in the investment option that works best for you. You can then use the balance to spend on your expenditures. This discipline ensures that come what may, you remain on track with your saving goals.
  3. Don’t flaunt money, but use it to create more: When you are young and get your first jobit is tempting to spend on a great lifestyle. But as we’ve discussed, even the small indulgences add up to a serious amount of cash over time. Instead, by regulating indulgences now and investing the rest of your money, you can actually become wealthy instead of just seeming to be so.
  4. Set aside emergency funds: When an emergency arises, like sudden hospitalisation or an accident, quick access to money is needed. This means keeping aside some of your money in liquid assets (accessible whenever you want it). It thus makes sense to regularly save a little towards creating this emergency fund in an investment that can be easily liquidated.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: This is something any investment adviser will tell you, simply because different investment options come with different benefits and risks and suit different investment horizons. By investing in a variety of instruments or options, you can hedge against possible risks and also meet different goals.

How and Why Mutual Funds work

A mutual fund is a professionally managed investment scheme that pools money collected from investors like you and invests this into a diversified portfolio (an optimal mix) of stocks, bonds and other securities.

As an investor, you buy ‘units’, under a mutual fund scheme. The value of these units (Net Asset Value) fluctuates depending on the market value of the mutual fund’s investments. So, the units can be bought or redeemed as per your needs and based on the value.

As mentioned, the fund is managed by professionals who follow the market closely the make calls on where to invest money. This makes these funds a great option for someone who isn’t financially very savvy but is interested in saving up for the future.

So how is a mutual fund going to help to meet your savings goals? Here’s a quick Q&A helps you understand just that:

  1. How do mutual funds meet my investment needs?Mutual Funds come with a variety of schemes that suit different goals depending on whether they are short-term, medium-term or long-term.
  2. Can I withdraw money whenever I want to?There are several mutual funds that offer liquidity – quick and easy access to your money when you want it. For example, there are liquid mutual funds which do not have any lock in period and you can invest your surplus money even for one day. Based on your goals, you can divide your money between funds with longer term or shorter term benefits.
  3. Does it help save on taxes?Investing in certain types of mutual funds also offers you tax benefits. More specifically, investing in Equity Linked Saving Schemes, which are funds that invest in a diverse portfolio of equities, offers you tax deductions up to Rs. 1.5 lakhs under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act.
  4. Don’t I need a lot of money to invest in MFs?No, you can start small. The returns in terms of percentage is the same irrespective of the amount you invest in. Additionally, the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) allows you to invest a small amount weekly, monthly or quarterly in a mutual fund. So, you get to control the size and frequency of your investment and make sure you save before you spend.
  5. But aren’t MFs risky?Well many things in life are risky! Mutual funds try to mitigate your risk by investing your money across a variety of securities. You can further hedge risk by investing in 2 to 3 mutual offers that offer different growth stories i.e. a blue-chip fund and a mid-cap fund. Also remember in a mutual fund, your money is being managed by professionals who are constantly following the market.
  6. Don’t I have to wait too long to get back my returns?No! Mutual Funds, because of the variety of options they offer, can give you gains in the short or medium term too.

The essence of MF is that your money is not lying idle, but is dynamically invested and working for you. To know more about how investing in mutual funds really works for you, see here.

Disclaimer: Mutual Fund investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mutual Funds Sahi Hai and not by the Scroll editorial team.