The Karnataka High Court has said that it is unable to direct the Central and State Government to release funds for the welfare of advocates enrolled with the Karnataka State Bar Council (KSBC) and those who are deprived of income on account of courts being closed in the state during the lockdown.
The Court said that utilization of funds for relief was a policy matter of the executive.
Instead, it suggested that appeal be made by KSBC to senior advocates to donate funds for assisting needy advocates during lockdown.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice B V Nagarathna disposed of petitions filed by Advocate H C Shivaramu, who is the Former Chairman of Karnataka State Bar Council and Advocates Anantharaju B G and Chaluvaraju B C.
The bench said "It is true that several advocates will be affected due to closure of the Courts as a result of COVID-19. It is an accepted position that both the State as well as the Central Governments are facing severe cash crunch. Both the Governments are required to deal with the marginalized sections of the society who are in large numbers and who are deprived of even daily food requirements as a result of COVID-19. Ultimately, it is a matter of policy for the State as well as Central Governments to take a decision of utilization of the limited resources available with both the Governments. The priorities for the use of available resources is also a matter of policy. That is the reason why we are unable to issue a writ of mandamus directing both the Central Government and State Government to release the amounts."
It was stated in the petition filed by H C Shivaramu, that though advocates are considered as an "elite" group in the society, there are many who are dependent on daily income but they are deprived of it at present as courts are closed. The plea sought release of ₹50,000 each to the needy advocates as ex gratia from the Bar Council Of India (BCI) Advocates' Welfare Fund and the KSBC Advocates' Welfare Fund under the scheme for financial assistance to indigent and disabled advocates.
The plea mentioned that the Delhi Government has sanctioned Rs 50 crore to the Delhi Bar Council for offering assistance to the needy advocates. Thus a similar direction be issued to the State and Union Government to grant Rs 50 crore each to the Karnataka State Bar Council Welfare Fund.
Senior counsel appearing for KSBC pointed out that it is utilizing the said amount of Rs.45,00,000 as well as a sum of Rs.2,00,00,000, from its own funds to render financial assistance to those advocates who have not completed ten years in the legal profession and those who satisfy the eligibility criterion set out. A large number of applications have been received by KSBC which are being processed. He states that in the case of women advocates, KSBC is considering relaxation of the condition of not practicing for ten years.
Following which the bench said "Essentially, a relief can be granted to the advocates only on cessation of practice as provided under Section 16 of the Karnataka State Advocates Welfare Fund Act. Therefore, if assistance is to be granted to the members of Karnataka State Advocates Welfare Fund for dealing with a situation arising due to spread of COVID19, the State Government will have to amend the said Act. The petitioners can always make a representation on that behalf."
However, to assist all class of advocates the court suggested KSBC to make an appeal to senior advocates to make donations which can be used for welfare of needy advocates. "We are sure that if KSBC makes a request to the learned Advocate General who is the leader of the Bar to convene a meeting of the senior members of the Bar for assisting KSBC to collect donations, the learned Advocate General will assist KSBC in its efforts to generate funds so that the help can reach all the needy members of the Bar," the bench said.
It added that "We are sure that considering the rich traditions of the Bar in the State, if an appeal is made by KSBC to the members of the Bar, it will receive a spontaneous response and a large amount will be collected by way of donations which will ultimately reach the advocates who badly need financial assistance in the present crisis."
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