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A petition filed in the Supreme Court has stated that the government has remained a mute spectator to the hardships faced by lawyers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Filed by Advocate-on-Record Abhinav Ramkrishna, the plea has urged the Court to issue directions so that the government, in tandem with state bar councils, formulates a uniform welfare scheme for all lawyers affected by the lockdown.
The petitioner points out how lawyers are finding it difficult to sustain themselves in the wake of closure of courts.
"The government, Bar council of India and state bar councils cannot be expected to be in a state of deep slumber or be insensitive towards the economic and mental hardship faced by lawyers, except few upon who have achieved a milestone by dint of their hard work and acumen."
The petition further states that the government, "which is primarily responsible for the effective establishment of the judicial setup in this country", has "remained a mute spectator over the trouble being faced by the lawyers and till date".
It is also stated that the Bar Council of India (BCI) on April 23 announced a financial scheme for lawyers. "However, the same serves no purpose as the amount to be disbursed has been kept undecided", says the petition.
Further, the plea, which is set to be argued by Senior Advocate Jayant Sud, points out that lawyers across the nation have been paying welfare amount upon filing of the vakalatnama each time they enter appearance.
"[In an] unprecedented situation like the present one, it is incumbent upon all the State Bar Councils to come clean with the amount of funds they have in the welfare account".
A reference has been made to a notification issued by the Karnataka State Bar Council (KSBC) on April 8, where it was decided that an interest-free loan of Rs.10,000 will be granted to an advocate, subject to availability of funds and other conditions.
Ramkrishna has contended that once an amount is said to be have been disbursed under a welfare scheme during a national crisis, "giving the same a colour of debt/loan is not only against the objective of any welfare act, but the same is like ensuing an insult upon a needy lawyer".
In this background, the petitioner has sought a direction to declare the act of the KSBC as ultra vires.
Some of questions laid down by the petitioner are:
Whether or not the Supreme Court in exercise of its power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India can extend the statement of object and scope of the Advocates’ Welfare Fund Act 2001, in this hour of emergent national crisis which has adversely impacted the legal professionals?
Whether or not the decision of the various State Bar Councils to merely extending a paltry sum as one-time payment for loss of work and income to the lawyers for sustenance, can be termed as dignified treatment and thus violative of Article 21 of the Constitution?
Whether or not in a given situation at hand, can a decision of the state bar councils to put a cap of annual income, as a pre-requisite condition to grant aid and assistance to any lawyer is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution?
Whether a lawyer on ground of his years of standing at bar or filing of income tax returns can be deprived of the benefit if he/she needs financial assistance?
Whether or not in a given situation at hand, can a decision of the state bar councils can be permitted to grant financial aid under the guise of the loan, especially when the fund is to be released from welfare account?