Lawyers help each other to stay afloat during the pandemic
Well established senior counsel donate generously for welfare of less privileged juniors
Among lawyers there exists a stark contrast between the paltry remuneration of the juniors with no steady flow of income and the huge amount of professional fees charged by well-established senior counsel. According to a recent Madras High Court order, there were around 65,000 advocates on the rolls of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (BCTNP) as on date, and during this pandemic, the legal fraternity had shown extraordinary camaraderie by donating generous amounts of money towards the welfare of the needy.
It all began with Justice S.M. Subramaniam of the Madras High Court being able to see the devastation to be caused by the pandemic during the first wave in March 2020. Right then, he donated his monthly salary of ₹2.25 lakh to the State government for the welfare of unorganised sector labourers who had lost their livelihood. This gesture led to the creation of an advocates relief fund by BCTNP and many designated senior counsel, including P.S. Raman, A.R.L. Sundaresan, P. Wilson, donated generously for providing financial assistance to young lawyers.
In April 2020, the Bar Council of India (BCI) Advocates Welfare Fund Committee, then chaired by S. Prabakaran, also pitched in by handing over a cheque for ₹40 lakh to BCTNP chairman P. S. Amalraj. Activist lawyer Sudha Ramalingam too moved a writ petition in the High Court seeking the intervention of the State government and the BCTNP in providing insurance cover to lawyers and their family members. She pointed out that many lawyers had lost their lives and that of their loved ones and that many of them did not have any kind of health insurance cover to meet medical expenses.
Justices N. Kirubakaran and R. Pongiappan of the High Court found substance in her claim and ordered the constitution of a committee chaired by the Advocate General, BCTNP representatives and experts on insurance laws to come up with suggestions on providing a health insurance policy for the lawyers and their family members. However, within days after the order was passed, the second wave of the pandemic began raging and there was also a change in the State government, following the Assembly election, forcing things to slow down a bit without much progress.
Nevertheless, it did not deter the lawyers from continuing to pool in their personal resources to help their colleagues. Senior counsel M. Ajmal Khan initiated a donation drive through the Tamil Nadu Senior Advocates Forum (TNSAF). He donated ₹10 lakh and urged other senior counsel to come forward with generous donations. Many senior advocates including Mr. Raman, Mr. Wilson, A. Sirajudeen, P.H. Arvindh Pandian, M.S. Krishnan, V. Prakash, and even other advocates including R. Gandhi, Arul Vadivel Sekar, Sadiq Raja and Sricharan came up with generous donations once again.
“Now during this second wave, we are expecting a collection of ₹ 50 lakh as corpus for this fund. This will be used for helping junior lawyers who are unable to meet medical expenses and those who are borrowing money even for funeral expenses. In our advocate community, the disparity of income is large. We, the senior advocates, are better placed in terms of income. The profession has brought us to the better economic position that we are in today and so we owe a duty to give back at least something to the profession. That is exactly the reason, we are helping ourselves,” Mr. Khan said.