|Kin of lawyers receiving pension can claim ex gratia|
CHENNAI: Kin of advocates who receive pension or other terminal benefits from the Centre/State Government or other organisations too are eligible to claim ex gratia payment under the advocates welfare fund scheme, the Madras High Court has ruled.
Striking down an amendment to the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Advocates Welfare Fund Act, seeking to disentitle advocates who were employed with some other organisations before they set up their own practice, Justice M. Jeyapaul said: "When the family members of advocates, who set up their practice straight from the law college, are entitled to the benefits of the scheme, it would be unjust to deny the very same benefits to the elderly members of the Bar, who fortunately or unfortunately had been to some other service and ultimately decided to start their practice in the legal profession."
He said: "Segregation and classification of the retired employee-advocates as a class without adverting to their financial status is found to be a discrimination... The differentiation between advocates who had set up practice demitting the office in an organisation and advocates who set up practice straight from the law college is not intelligible and rational."
The Judge was passing orders on a batch of writ petitions, filed by officials who had enrolled as advocates after retiring from their respective services.
Assailing the impugned amendment, the petitioners said denying the payment of Rs. 2 lakh to the kin of advocates receiving pension or gratuity or other terminal benefits would be violative of fundamental right to equality. Distinguishing this class of advocates from fresh law graduates enrolling in the Bar did not have any rational basis.
The State Government and the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu justified the amendment, on the ground that the petitioners and similarly placed persons were not "wedded to the profession," as they had opted for some other lucrative job during their prime time.
Denying that it was an irrational classification, they said persons like the petitioners had completed law degree clandestinely to enter the profession.
Rejects the argument
Mr. Justice Jeyapaul, rejecting the arguments, said advocates who paid membership, subscription fee and affixed the welfare stamp alone were entitled to the benefits.
All of them profess advocacy on equal footing and it is not as if all the advocates who set up practice after their retirement from service are well off and all their financial needs are taken care of by the retirement benefits.
He said it would be uncharitable to brand all retired employee-advocates as incompetent or they lacked commitment to the profession,and struck down proviso in Section 16 Explanation II (5) of the Tamil Nadu Advocates Welfare Act 1987 as ultra vires the Constitution.
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