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The Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday took note that, based on submissions made by the Bar Council of India (BCI) and the State Bar Council, there were sufficient funds in various accounts maintained by these bodies to extend financial aid to advocates in need amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Bench of Justices Manoj Kumar Tiwari and Sharad Kumar Sharma was dealing with a plea seeking, inter alia, subsistence allowance for lawyers who have been deprived of work amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Following the Court's queries last week, the BCI and the State Bar Council filed replies in the matter. Inter alia, the State Bar Council informed the High Court that the following funds were available for the purpose, i.e.:
Rs. 1 crore available from the Advocate Welfare Fund Committee account;
Rs. 78.5 lakhs liable to be transferred by the State Government;
Rs. 24 lakhs permitted to be transferred by the BCI for the welfare of the needy advocates in the present pandemic from the Bar Council of India Advocate Welfare Fund Committee;
Apart from that, roughly an amount of Rs. 6 lakhs is available in the interest account of said amount.
In total, the State Bar Council indicated that an amount of Rs. 2.85 crores would be available presently for providing solace to the needy lawyers, after receipt of the amount due from the State Government under Section 4 of the UP Advocates Welfare Fund Act, 1974 (about Rs 39.2 lakhs).
Further, the BCI informed the Court that it has decided to permit up to Rs 45 lakhs in the first instance for State Bar Councils. Thereafter, if need be, a maximum amount of Rs. 1 crore i.e. Rs. 55 lakhs may be disbursed in the next phase from the Bar Council of India Advocates Welfare Fund, which is located in respective State Bar Councils.
In view of these submissions, the Bench noted that,
The Court proceeded to dispose of the PIL plea, with a direction that concerned representatives of the Uttarakhand Advocates Welfare Fund Trustee Committee, the BCI and the Uttarakhand Bar Council convene a meeting on or before May 2, through video conferencing or otherwise, to decide on the "criteria of eligibility for financial assistance to the advocates, the amount to be paid to each of the needy advocates as financial assistance etc."
The Bench added that it hoped and trusted that the available resources would be used rationally "to ensure that aspirations of all the deserving advocates who are in need of financial help in these difficult times, are fulfilled and claim of no advocate who is in need of financial help, is ignored."
Read the order:
The plea was by three lawyers practicing at the Uttarakhand High Court, through Advocates Dr. Kartikey Hari Gupta, Pallavi Bahuguna and Vikas Bahuguna.
The petition made a case that “lawyers constitute a separate class of persons and are entitled to separate financial and other relief measures” from the state government and the Bar Councils of India and Uttarakhand, respectively.
In the last hearing, the Court had directed the Bar Council of Uttarakhand to coordinate with the BCI to arrange funds to help advocates in need, while also observing that the relief money cannot wait for long, as lawyers are facing unprecedented hardships during this time.