The Delhi High Court has asked the Advocates Welfare Fund Trust and Bar Council of Delhi to submit a report stating a roadmap on how to address the financial hardship faced by advocates due to COVID19.
While highlighting that the writ of mandamus cannot be issued to a Trust for doing charity, the Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan requested both the Welfare Fund and the BCD to consult various stakeholders and Senior Advocates and try to mutually reach a decision to resolve this issue.
The order has come in a plea seeking ex gratia payment of ₹25,000 to each member of the Advocates Welfare Fund who has suffered financial hardship due to COVID19.
It was averred in the petition that such amount should be given to only those advocates, after due verification, who make a representation before the Trust Committee of the concerned Fund.
Appearing for the Petitioner, Senior Advocate Hariharan submitted that Section 24 of the Advocates Welfare Fund Act is broad enough to cover cases arising of COVID19.
'Clause (e) of the said section should be benevolently interpreted by the Trust Committee to provide relief to advocates who are suffering from this hardship', Mr Hariharan argued.
Mr Hariharan further submitted that the Trust Committee should declare COVID19 as a natural calamity and help lawyers who do not have enough to make ends meet.
'There is a huge corpus of Fund which is lying utilised', Mr Hariharan contended.
In addition to this, Mr Hariharan submitted that Bar Council should be called upon to formulate a scheme in this regard under Rule 44 of the Bar Council Rules.
Appearing for the Fund, ASG Sanjay Jain submitted that the Trust Committee is willing to consider cases of COVID19 as 'medical needs' under Section 19 of the Act to provide compensation to those who are already enrolled with the Fund.
However, Mr Jain pointed out that ex gratia compensation can't be given under Section 19 in these cases. Ex gratia compensation, Mr Jain submitted, is only given in the cases of expenditure incurred in receiving medical treatment.
'We're willing to accept representations regarding COVID19 ailments and decide upon the same within a fortnight. We won't sit on them. However, ex gratia payments can't be made' Mr Jain submitted.
Mr Jain further informed the court that there's a limited fund which can only be utilised for compensating medical expenses.
'There might be so many COVID patients who will apply for this Fund. We can't give money for any other purpose', Mr Jain submitted.
Appearing for Bar Council of Delhi, Mr KC Mittal submitted that the Council has already disbursed 8 crores under 16,000 applications for the benefit of the advocates.
Mr Mittal further pointed out that due to the financial crunch, the Council is diverting money from building fund and library fund. Moreover, the Council is constantly getting in touch with the lawyers who are admitted in hospitals due to COVID19.
'4 advocates have already died of COVID19. We at BCD would like to have a COVID19 helpline to assist the suffering advocates from the beginning', Mr Mittal submitted.