GUWAHATI, July 18 - Though they have a public image of earning in lakhs and leading a life comfortable enough to survive a few months of lockdown with ease, in reality, the economic condition of a vast majority of lawyers in the State is pathetic, what with only urgent matters being listed in courts for hearing.
The novel coronavirus lockdown in the State and an extended lockdown in Guwahati have not only brought to the fore the huge income disparity within the legal fraternity, but have also underscored the need for an action plan for members of the legal fraternity in distress, if things don�t change for the better in the near future.
�The bars and court campuses were closed in the State even before the countrywide lockdown. Even advocates� entry was restricted in the High Court and lower judiciaries all over the State. Only bail matters involving personal liberty and title suits involving injunction matters were allowed subsequently. The advocates who earn on case-to-case basis have suffered very badly from the beginning of the lockdown,� general secretary of the All Assam Lawyers� Association (AALA) Dipak Das told The Assam Tribune.
Even as the virtual courts started in subsequent days with restriction to extremely urgent matters, the economic condition of a majority of lawyers continued to be precarious in the absence of regular cases and other limitations associated with the virtual courts.
�The lawyers don�t seek help and assistance from the government. However, there are many who are finding it difficult to manage even their basic needs. There have been instances where we have provided essentials like rice, hygiene products and medicines to the needy advocates, apart from small amounts of money,� Das added.
�A corpus fund of Rs 5 crore was announced by former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi during the last part of his tenure, which was subsequently endorsed by present Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Cabinet Minister and a member of the legal fraternity Siddhartha Bhattacharya. We demand of the government to release the money for the said fund to provide assistance to the lawyers,� Das said.
The legal fraternity of Assam comprises approximately 30,000 advocates. In Guwahati, 2,700 lawyers are member of the Lawyers� Association Guwahati (LAG).
Senior advocate Sailen Das said that when the Bar Council of Assam decided to extend a one-time financial assistance of Rs 5,000 each to needy advocates recently, it instantly received 3,600 petitions.
�The economic condition of a sizeable number of lawyers in Assam is beyond comprehension in the present situation. It�s just that they don�t come out in the open to express it due to their social image,� he mentioned.
�The legal profession demands expensive higher education, hard work and top notch professional integrity. From studies to obtaining licence, the expense of everything is funded by the candidate and his or her family. However, despite all these, in reality, this job is like that of a daily wage earner. Though it�s difficult to believe, a number of lawyers living in Guwahati are finding it difficult to pay even their monthly room rent. The condition is more pathetic in lower courts,� Sailen Das further added.
On June 15 AALA had given a memorandum to the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court for continuing regular courts by strictly following the health department protocol. A delegation of senior advocates also met the Chief Justice on June 23, following which regular courts in virtual mode were allowed. However, the virtual regular court could not be started in Guwahati due to the extended lockdown.
In the meantime, several judicial officers and lawyers were found COVID positive in Nagaon, Kamrup Metro, Margherita etc. This once again restricted virtual court proceedings to only urgent matters in the High Court and lower judiciaries across the State.
�The condition of lawyers will not improve unless regular courts are started. Virtual courts are not a solution for advocates or even the litigant public, as practically, most of the cases hardly make any progress in such courts,� said Biraj Choudhury, president of LAG.
AALA has asked the State government to provide a monthly stipend to the new entrants and a pension scheme for the senior members of the legal fraternity.