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The Court opined that utilization of the limited resources and funds by the Central and State Governments is "ultimately a matter of policy".
The Karnataka High Court recently refrained from passing directions to the Central and state governments to release funds for the welfare of advocates enrolled with the Karnataka State Bar Council (KSBC) during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Court opined that utilization of the limited resources and funds by the Central and state governments is "ultimately a matter of policy".
The order passed by a Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice B V Nagarathna reads,
"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 as prayed..."
Karnataka High Court
However, the Court further clarified that the above would not preclude both the Bar Council of India (BCI) as well as the KSBC from approaching the state or Central government for seeking necessary financial assistance for the income-deprived junior lawyers.
"If such applications are made, both the Governments are bound to decide the same in accordance with law and as expeditiously as possible", the Court held.
On a different note, the Court held,
"Essentially, a relief can be granted to the advocates only on cessation of practice as provided under Section 16 of the said Act of 1983 (the Karnataka State Advocates Welfare Fund Act, 1983). 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 of 1983."
On the above aspect, the Court explained that the petitioners may make a representation.
Senior Advocate appearing for KSBC informed the Court that it was utilizing a sum of Rs 2,45,00,000/- 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 criteria set out. It was further submitted that a large number of applications have been received by KSBC, and the same were being processed.
In this regard, the Court observed that ideally, both BCI and KSBC should extend relief to all advocates who are affected by COVID-19 irrespective of the number of years of legal practice. However, only a limited amount is available with KSBC for this purpose, it was observed.
On the point of helping needy advocates with more than 10 years of practice, the Division Bench suggested to KSBC to make an appeal to the senior members of the Bar to make donations in order to help those members of the Bar not covered by the KSBC financial assistance scheme.
In this regard, the Court stated that it was certain that the Advocate General would convene a meeting with the senior members of the Bar for assisting KSBC to collect donations.
The Court further went on to state 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."
Petitioner HC Shivaramu, appearing in person, also intimated the Court that in the case of women advocates, KSBC is considering relaxation of the condition of not practicing for ten years.
After considering the submissions, the Court proceeded to dispose of the matter.
The above observations were made by the Court while dealing with a petition filed by Senior Advocate HC Shivaramu, which highlighted the pitiable condition of junior lawyers due to the closure of courts in the state
Last month, the Court had asked BCI and KSBC what immediate relief could be extended to needy members of the Bar who are suffering due to lack of income owing to the Coronavirus lockdown.
[Read order here]