New Delhi, Jul 12 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Monday held that the benefit of Chief Minister's Advocates' Welfare Scheme shall extended to all lawyers registered with the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD), whose names and credentials are verified, irrespective of whether they are registered as a voter in the national capital.
Calling the exclusion of lawyers registered with BCD but residing in NCR as discriminatory and arbitrary, Justice Prathiba M Singh emphasised that the Scheme was announced to recognise the contribution of advocates in bettering the lives of the citizenry of Delhi and not for advocates who constitute the electorate.
The judge ordered that a new scheme in terms of the present judgment shall be announced by September 30 by the Delhi government after consultation with BCD and insurance companies and thereafter, fresh registrations for advocates shall be opened.
The high court observed that on account of various reasons including economic and financial reasons, a substantial number of advocates lived in the neighbouring areas of Noida, Gurugram, Sonepat, Rohtak, Faridabad, Ghaziabad etc but “were intricately and intrinsically linked with the dispensation of justice” in the national capital.
“They commute from these areas to Delhi almost on a daily basis. Such advocates are registered with the BCD and are also members of the Bar associations of the court complexes where they practice. They play an important role in serving the citizenry in Delhi and assisting courts in Delhi for the adjudication of disputes. They also contribute to the revenue stream of the Delhi Government by practising in Delhi. They may also have chambers/offices in various court complexes in Delhi”, Justice Singh added.
The condition that the names of the advocates should appear in the voters list of Delhi does not find any linkage or connection with the Scheme's object, the high court further opined as it observed that no documents were placed before it to show the reasons behind the pre-condition of having a Delhi voter ID.
“The Scheme centers around the professional contribution of advocates, not their role as citizens of Delhi who participate in the election process.”, the high court said.
It also noted that the scheme of the Advocates Act, 1961 and the various Bar Council Rules and Regulations give primacy to the place of practice and not residence.
Given that pool of beneficiaries now stood increased and out of the the annual budgetary allocation of Rs 50 crore for the scheme, Delhi government had already spent approximately Rs 40 crores to purchase insurance policies for Delhi-based lawyers, the high court directed that the annual deficit in the budget shall be contributed by the BCD. The high court clarified that BCD may utilise its funds collected under the Advocates' Welfare Act, 2001, seek any voluntary contribution from senior advocates and other financially well-off advocates or if the need so arises, collect some part of the premium from the advocates themselves.
Delhi government cannot be made to solely bear the burden of providing the insurance premium, though it is urged that the outlay may be increased depending upon the requirements, taking inflationary trends etc., into consideration, the high court stated.
Insurance policies for all eligible advocates, who registered within the deadlines but were left out shall now be included and the policies for the remainder period of the current year shall be procured July 31, the high court added.
The high court directed Delhi government and BCD to appoint Nodal Officers to coordinate with each other for streamlining the implementation of the Scheme.
The high court was dealing with a batch of petitions seeking a direction to extend the benefit of the scheme to all those enrolled with the BCD, whether their names appear on the voters' list of the national capital or not.
Advocate Govind Swaroop Chaturvedi, one of the petitioners, said the exclusion of advocates practicing in Delhi but residing in NCR was discriminatory, illegal and unreasonable.
BCD also supported the inclusion of its members residing in NCR within the scheme.
In October last year, the high court had asked the Delhi government to purchase before November 30, insurance policies from the LIC and New India Assurance Company (NIAC) for around 29,000 Delhi lawyers under the scheme.
The high court had said that in view of the above figures having now been finalised with the companies, the Delhi Government shall now proceed to purchase the insurance policies from LIC for 28,744 members and from NIAC for 29,077 lawyers who are members of the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD), whose names already stand verified. The purchase of the policies shall be effected on or before November 30, The chief minister had in November 2019 set up a 13-member committee, headed by then Supreme Court Bar Association president Rakesh Kumar Khanna, to recommend ways for utilisation of the fund under the scheme for welfare of advocates.
The committee had recommended group mediclaim policy of Rs five lakh and a life insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh for each lawyer, besides setting up e-libraries and creche facilities in district courts through the fund. PTI ADS RKS RKS