Breaking; Retired Officials who joined Legal Profession constitute a separate class and the disentitlement of the benefit of Advocate Welfare Fund to this group of advocates cannot be said to be unreasonable : SC [Read the Judgment]

Breaking; Retired Officials who joined Legal Profession constitute a separate  class  and  the  disentitlement  of  the benefit of Advocate Welfare Fund to this group of advocates cannot  be  said to be unreasonable : SC [Read the Judgment]

A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court today in Seshachalam and Others vs. Chairman Bar Council of TN [Civil Appeals 11454-11459/2014] upheld the Madras High Court Judgment which held that “there is reasonable classification  between  the  advocates  who  had  set  up   practice  after demitting  their office from the  Central/State Government/Organization  and  advocates who have set up practice  straight  from  the  law  college the  retired  officials  who  joined  legal profession constitute  a  separate  class  and  the  disentitlement  of  the benefit of lump sum welfare fund to this group of advocates cannot  be  said to be unreasonable.



The Court was examining the question whether proviso to Section 16 Explanation II (5) of  Tamil  Nadu Advocates' Welfare Fund Act, 1987 denying the payment of two lakh rupees  to the kin of  advocates  receiving  pension  or  gratuity  or  other  terminal benefits would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of  India  and whether distinguishing this class of  advocates  from  other  law  graduates enrolling in the Bar straight after  their  law  degree  did  not  have  any rational basis. The Court also examined the vires of Section 1(3)  of  the  Bihar  State Advocates' Welfare Fund  Act  1983  which  excludes  the  persons  who  have retired from service and are in  receipt  of  retiral  benefits  from  their employers from the purview of the Bihar State Advocates' Welfare  Fund  Act.


A single Judge of the Madras High Court allowed the  batch of writ  petitions  filed  by  the  retired  officials    who  had  enrolled themselves as advocates after their retirement and had struck down impugned proviso to Explanation II (5) of Section 16 holding  that  the same is violative of Article 14 of the  Constitution  of  India.  Aggrieved by the order Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and the Government preferred  appeals  before  the Division Bench which allowed the appeals and set  aside  the  order  of  the learned single Judge. Hence the Appeal

Counsel for the appellants Mr. Haris Beeran contended that the denial of lump sum benefit based on a classification  of  advocates is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.  It  was  submitted that the differentiation between persons who  enrolled  as  advocates  after demitting office from the govt. service/organization  and  who  enrolled  as advocates  and  set  up  practice  straight  from  the  law   college,    is discriminatory as there is  no  such  distinction  made  in  the  Act  while defining the term 'advocate' under Section 2(a) of the Act.  It was  further submitted that the pension and other benefits  received  are  the  statutory amounts paid to them for the services rendered to the previous employer  and it is an earned benefit, and that cannot form the basis for denial  of  lump sum benefits.  It was also argued that the impugned proviso is  repugnant and contradictory to Section  2(i)  of  the  Act,  which  defines  the  term 'member of Fund' and is liable to be struck down as ultra vires  Article  14 of the Constitution of India that the differentiation between persons who  enrolled  as  advocates  after demitting office from the govt. service/organization  and  who  enrolled  as advocates  and  set  up  practice  straight  from  the  law   college,    is discriminatory as there is  no  such  distinction  made  in  the  Act  while defining the term 'advocate' under Section 2(a) of the Act.  It was  further submitted that the pension and other benefits  received  are  the  statutory amounts paid to them for the services rendered to the previous employer  and it is an earned benefit, and that cannot form the basis for denial  of  lump sum benefits.  The appellants argued that the impugned proviso is  repugnant and contradictory to Section  2(i)  of  the  Act,  which  defines  the  term 'member of Fund' and is liable to be struck down as ultra vires  Article  14 of the Constitution of India. Rejecting the arguments the Supreme Court held as follows;



“in the light of the well-settled  principles  of  interpretation of Article 14, it is to be seen whether there  is  intelligible  differentiabetween the classification of advocates who had  set  up  practice  straight after  enrolment  and  other  advocates  who  start  their  practice   after demitting the office and are in receipt of pension and  other  benefits  and whether the differentia has a nexus with the object of the Act.


The profession of law is a noble calling. The  legal  fraternity toils day and night to be successful in  the  profession.   Although  it  is true that slowly working one's  way  up  is  the  norm  in  any  profession, including law, but initially young advocates have to  remain  in  the  queue for a prolonged period of  time  and  struggle  through  greater  hardships.



Despite being extremely talented, a  number  of  young  lawyers  hardly  get proper opportunity or exposure in their profession.   New  entrants  to  the profession in the initial stages of the profession suffer  with  the  meagre stipend which young  lawyers    may  receive  during  their  initial  years, coupled with the absence of a legislation concerning this, they struggle  to manage their food, lodging, transportation and other needs.   Despite  their valiant efforts, they are unable to march ahead in their profession.  It  is only after years of  hard work and slogging  that some   of  the   fortunate lawyers are able to make a name for themselves and  achieve success  in  the profession.  For the  majority  of  the  legal  fraternity,  everyday  is  a challenge.  Despite the difficult times, the lawyer  who  sets  up  practice straight  after  enrolment,  struggles   to  settle  down  himself   in  the profession.  Some of  the  lawyers   remain  struggling   throughout   their lives yet choose to remain in the profession.  It is something like  "ridinga bicycle uphill with the wind against one".


Contrariwise, the retired employees like the appellants who  are law graduates did not withstand  the  difficult  times  in  the  profession. They opted for some other lucrative job during their  prime  time  of  their life and lived a  secured  life.   Others  found  some  job  and  positioned themselves in a comfortable place  of  employment,  chose  to  join  evening college or attended part time classes and obtained  law  degree  and  having retired with comfortable retiral benefits, further  securing  their  future, they enrol themselves as an advocate to  practice.   The  retired  employees have  the  substantial  retiral  benefits,  gratuity  apart  from  receiving pension.  The availability  of lump sum retiral benefits with pension  makes a retired employee better  placed  than  their  counter  part   lawyers  who struggle through difficult times.



The various welfare fund schemes  are  in  actuality  intended for the benefit of those who  are  in  the  greatest  need  of  them. The lawyers, straight after their enrolment, who join the legal profession  with high  hopes  and  expectations  and  dedicate  their  whole  lives  to   the professions are the real deservers.   Lawyers  who  enrol  themselves  after their retirement from government services and continue  to  receive  pension and other terminal benefits, who basically join  this  field  in  search  of greener pastures in the evening   of their lives cannot and  should  not  be equated with those who have devoted their whole  lives  to  the  profession.


For these retired persons, some amount of financial stability is ensured  in view of the pension and terminal benefits and making them eligible for  lump sum welfare fund under the Act would actually  amount  to  double  benefits.

Therefore, in our considered view, the classification of lawyers into  these two categories is a  reasonable  classification  having  a  nexus  with  the object of the Act.



Furthermore, it is also to be noted that in view of their  being placed differently than the class of lawyers who chose  this  profession  as the sole means of their livelihood, it can  reasonably   be  discerned  that the retired persons  form a separate class.  As noticed earlier, the  object of the Act is to provide for the constitution of  a  Welfare  Fund  for  the benefit of advocates on cessation of practice.  As per  Section  3  (2)  (d)any grant made by the Government to the welfare fund is one  of  the  source of the Advocates' Welfare Fund.  The  retired  employees   are  already   in receipt of pension from the Government or other employer and  to  make  them get another retiral benefit from the Advocates' Welfare Fund  would   amount to double benefit and they are rightly excluded from the   benefit   of  the lump sum amount of welfare fund.


Section 28 of the Central  legislation-Advocates'  Welfare  Fund Act 2001 provides that no senior advocate or a person in receipt of  pension from the Central Government or State Government shall  be  entitled  to  ex-gratia grant under Sections 19, 21 and  24  of  the  said  Act.   Thus,  the Central Act as well as the State Act does make  a  distinction  amongst  the advocates  on  the  premise  that  a  group  of  advocates  receive  certain financial assistance from the State Government or the Central Government  or some other employer in the  form  of  terminal  benefits  and  pension  etc.



Corresponding  Acts of various States namely Kerala Advocates  Welfare  Fund Act (Section 15),  Orissa  Advocates  Welfare  Fund  Act  (Section  15)  and Rajasthan  Advocates  Welfare  Fund   Act  (Section  16)   contain   similar provisions making differentiation between advocates who enrolled  themselves as advocates after demitting  their office and the other class of  advocates who enrolled as advocates straight from the  law  college  and  set  up  the practice.  We are  unable  to  agree  with  the  learned  counsel  that  the distinction  amongst  the  two  class  of  advocates  is   unreasonable   or irrational.


With regard to the challenge  against Section 1(3)  of  the  Bihar  State Advocates' Welfare Fund  Act  1983 it is held as follows;



" Advocates  Welfare Fund is enacted with the object of providing social security in the form  of financial assistance to juniors and  the  welfare  scheme  for  indigent  or disabled advocates.  As the appellants are already  in  receipt  of  pension from their employers, in our view, there is no  arbitrariness  in  excluding them from the applicability of  Bihar  State  Advocates'  Welfare  Fund  Act’.