The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every community financially. Lawyers too have to face this crisis. Due to courts functioning with restrictions and a lockdown being implemented, a lot of legal practitioners have exhausted their financial resources in order to pay for their basic necessities. In this context, over 2000 female lawyers from all over the country have sent a letter to the Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking aid for “financially drained advocates”. The letter has urged the minister to exercise his power under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and formulate a uniform policy to provide the practicing advocate's loans of up to Rs. 5,00,000/- payable in multiple installments for 36 months and a moratorium period of one year.
“Due to the continued lockdown of courts, Advocates' fundamental right to live with dignity, the right to work and right to livelihood are being infringed. What is really shocking is that no provision/remedy to lessen the hardships suffered by the Advocates is being thought of by the Central Government yet,”
The letter is prompted by instances of suicides by a number of young advocates due to extreme financial duress in this National Health emergency.
The letter points out that to date, even after multiple representations to concerned ministries by various organizations, advocates, and bar associations, no financial relief package is issued by the Union government to help the legal fraternity. Most of these advocates are above the poverty line and maintain average living standards. The meager helping amount of Rs. 5000 or 10,000 is exhausting bar councils financially and is now failing to address the financial difficulties of advocates.
The lawyers added-
“That welfare Funds which are there to take care of contingencies is now under gaze to fix the loss of daily income of Advocates, and even if this fund is used up to the last coin, it will not be enough to take care of the financial needs of an average Advocate. So placing welfare funds to run the household of Advocates won't cause any benefit to us as a community rather will pull the financial security which otherwise Advocates have in case of any health emergency”
The letter urges the home minister to formulate a plan of providing loans that may be given on a personal guarantee of advocates by taking corporate guarantee from Bar Council of India or other state bar councils. They added that the government may direct the National Credit Guarantee to add advocates as one of its categories to existing schemes like Skill Development, Education Loans, Factoring and Standup India for providing loans under this scheme through suitable channels
In addition to this, the Central Government can also extend health insurance coverage to all advocates as part of Ayushman Bharat Scheme and amidst this COVID-19 crisis, the representation suggests.