The Bar Council of India has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court highlighting the financial difficulties faced by lawyers on account of the country wide lockdown.
Stating that BCI does not have the funds to help the lawyers in need, it has sought directions to the Central Government and all States/UTs to "arrange financial assistance by way of interest free loan of up to Rs.3 lakhs each to advocates enrolled with the respective Bar Council of each State through the said Bar Council repayable in reasonable monthly installments atleast 12 months after normal court functioning commences".
The petition, filed through Advocate S N Bhat, also seeks a direction to Union of India and the respective State Governments to "financially support the needy advocates through respective Bar Association by depositing the amount directly in the accounts of the said advocates after receiving the necessary details from the respective Bar Association".
The writ petition states that the prolonged closure of the courts and tribunals all over the country since March 2020 due to the lock-down has deprived the majority of the advocates their only source of income. It is highlighted that most of the advocates, especially youngsters, have no savings and are solely dependent on the working of courts for their livelihood.
"The situation of some of them is so grim that it may not be an exaggeration to say that they face virtual starvation and they require urgent and immediate financial aid and succor", the plea states.
The petition states that 16,000 out of 64,000 advocates practising in Delhi, applied for the Rs 5000 financial assistance granted by the Bar Council of Delhi. Stating that this fact alone points to the poignant situation prevailing at present, the petition mentions that advocates cannot take up any other avocation for earning livelihood.
The plea states that "Advocates form essential and integral part of the justice delivery system" and "it is necessary to look after the well-being of this important segment of the system".
"Therefore, it is general public interest that the respondents authorities are directed to make available requisite assistance to the needy advocates in view of the prevailing circumstances", the plea reads.
Sating that the Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for meeting the contingencies rising during disaster, the petition states :
"The provisions of the said Act, in particular Section 13 provide for grant of financial relief including loans on concessional terms to persons affected by disaster. The government has already taken steps in this regard for giving relief to certain sections of the society including entrepreneurs. In the circumstances, it is necessary that appropriate relief is given to the suffering lawyers also".
BCI stresses that the proceeds of the Advocates Welfare Stamp duty collected at the time of filing of the vakalatnama in courts goes to the coffers of the Governments of the respective States and therefore they have the obligation to come to the aid of advocates.
It is stated that State Bar Councils do not have adequate funds to help the advocates in an effective and meaningful manner.
"It is now felt that the assistance schemes formulated by the State Bar Councils are wholly inadequate looking at the enormity of the problem faced by the lawyers due to the closures of the courts and the tribunals since March, 2020 and only the partial re-opening of the judicial fora", the plea states.
The BCI stated that its funds are only sufficient to meet its "regular expenses" and that it receives "only a fraction of the one-time enrolment fee paid by the advocates at the time of enrolment."
"The Bar Council of India also does not possess the necessary financial resources to help the needy advocates at this hour of crisis though the Bar Council of India acutely realises the necessity to come to the aid of the advocates. The Bar Council of India does not get any subscription money from the advocates periodically. The Bar Council of India receives only a fraction of the one-time enrolment fee paid by the advocates at the time of enrolment and the funds at the command of the Bar Council of India are barely sufficient to meet its regular expenses", the plea states.
The petition prays for intervention from the Supreme Court stating that it is necessary to secure the meaningful enjoyment of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution by advocates.
"..this Hon'ble Court has always acted as the parens patriae of the legal community in the country and tended to the needs and welfare of the members of the legal community as a whole. Therefore, this Hon'ble Court may pass appropriate directions to obviate the difficulties afflicting a section of the lawyers at present", states the petition.
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