Last week, irked at the absence of any Chandigarh attorneys from the court, Chief Justice Krishna Murari almost wrote an order asking the Administration to recall its panel for repeated absence from the courts. Though it may have been a one-off episode, all is not well with the legal arm of the UT Administration.
In November 2018, Suvir Sehgal, Senior Standing Counsel of the Administration, resigned from the post for "personal reasons" after remaining at the helm since July 2016. Sehgal was replaced by senior advocate Sanjeev Sharma, but he too called it quits as soon as he joined. Advocate Pankaj Jain took over the charge of handling Chandigarh's litigation on the civil side in December 2018 while senior advocate Randeep Singh Rai is the Special Public Prosecutor in criminal cases.
According to the Senior Standing Counsel's office, Chandigarh has less than 5,000 civil cases at the High Court with around 50 counsel on its panel.
Counsels complained that the Administration pays poorly as compared to Punjab and Haryana or even Boards and Corporations. "There is no retainership. The junior counsel is paid Rs 7,000 per case and the senior counsel gets Rs 11,000. Only two-third of the sum is paid at the beginning and you get the rest when the case is disposed of. How can you expect the best defence when you pay peanuts," fumed a lawyer, pointing out that the budget for lawyers falls under miscellaneous category.
Sanjeev Sharma also mentioned in his resignation letter that he found himself "unable to accept the terms" for his role. In what many regard as an indirect reference to politicisation of the post, he wrote "as an independent professional, it is not possible for me to enter an otherwise apolitical appointment in the existing environment."
Jain said a proposal on the issue of remuneration is pending before the Administration. "We are not a dedicated office like that of Advocate Generals and thus it is not possible to devote a lawyer for each court. We are doing our best with what we have," he said.
Adviser Manoj Kumar Parida said, "I think there is a proposal to double their remuneration. We had revised it five years back and we are doubling it now. The file will be cleared within a week."
But he added, "It is not the money which will the decide whether they deliver or not, but their calibre and commitment. We are a small sub-pision kind of a setup for a population of 11-12 lakh, we cannot have a massive establishment like Punjab and Haryana. The panel is adequate for the number of cases we get."