Shyam Sundar Das, the founder and moving spirit of CLAP was a lifelong Gandhian and an eminent non-jail going freedom fighter who dedicated his entire life for making of a sarvodaya order of society based on non-violence, truth and peace. His public work commenced immediately after Indian independence in 1947. He joined Bhoodan Movement and served as the translator for Vinova Bhave during his march for land gift movement in Odisha in 1952. He accepted voluntary poverty as a way of life after receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce and Philosophy from Rajendra College, Bolangir and Bachelor's Degree in Law. He worked in the remote tribal areas of Koraput District for liberation of bonded labour and worked with Anna Saheeb Sahashrabudhe to run the first and only Non-Governmental Development Block in Boipariguda. During this period he started the first ever Cooperative Society and became a Director of it for a decade apart from establishment of the then largest Khadi production centre Tara Gaon Gramadani Sangha. He also led Sarvodaya Relief Committee for a decade. He was appointed as the Commissioner of Investigation by the Supreme Court of India in the (in)famous starvation death and distress sale of children among tribal of Kalahandi District of Odisha in 1986.
He realised through his direct experience working with disadvantaged communities that unless vulnerable communities are empowered with affirmative law and justice provisions inequality would writ large in the society. This conviction led this non-conformist human right defender to establish Committee for Legal Aid to Poor (CLAP) with a vision to empower marginalised and vulnerable through the use of law, legal system and legal process. As a non-conformist human right defender he relied on International Bill of Human Rights to draw sanction for his actions for promotion and protection of human rights of underprivileged section of the society. He consistently endeavoured to make access to justice a constitutional mandate for realisation of rights and entitlements of people having less or no access to justice system. After incorporation of the provision of Free Legal Aid and Social Justice in the Indian Constitution he established Committee for Legal Aid to Poor, popularly known as CLAP to give expression to the constitutional vision into every day reality. The pro-bono services and public interest initiatives of CLAP helped innumerable people living in disadvantaged position since 1975 to secure for themselves freedom from injustice and exploitation.
Shyam Sundar Das had the unique distinction of being a lifelong Gandhian who always directs his work on a right based approach and advocates for human right of individuals. In fact he was among few Gandhians who always focused his work on Rights of the People.
This unparalleled champion of human right passed away on 14th August, 2011.
To know more about him read The Icon of Justice