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This article is written by Dnyaneshwari Patil from RTMNU Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Law, Nagpur. In this article, she discusses the Chief Minister Advocates’ Insurance Welfare Scheme formed by the Delhi government. Why the scheme needs to be implemented speedily in order to provide the services to the advocates and what problems the judiciary has to resolve for its smooth implementation.

Introduction

The Delhi Government advocated a welfare scheme for the benefit of advocates relating to untimely death and medical insurance. In this article, we will discuss the welfare scheme, impediments before the scheme and intentions of the States to follow the same path as the Delhi government in forming a similar policy. 

Advocate Insurance Scheme in Delhi

A committee was constituted by the Delhi Government to propose a scheme for the benefit of the advocates. This committee was headed by Senior Advocate Rakesh Kumar Khanna. An annual budget of fifty crores was sanctioned by the government for the scheme. After exhaustive deliberation, it was proposed by the committee under this scheme that a life term insurance of ten lakh, a medical coverage, life insurance to the beneficiary of the advocates registered in Delhi, e-library loaded with e-journal and creche facility for advocates, staff and employees be provided. Thus, on 18 December 2019, vide its cabinet discussion, the government of NCT Delhi approved the Chief Minister’s Advocates’ Welfare Scheme for the welfare of the advocates. 

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Implementation of the CM Advocate Welfare Scheme

As there were no steps taken for the implementation of the scheme, the petition contended that steps should be taken during this Covid time, thus a writ of Mandamus was issued against the NCT of Delhi directing them to release the money and issue the insurance policies to the advocates, numbering 29,098, which are registered under the CM Advocates’ Welfare Scheme. 

Around 37,142 lawyers applied for availing the benefits of the scheme through the website which the I.T Department of the Government of NCT Delhi opened. The applications were received till 19 April 2020 and the data was sent to the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD), which was then verified and advocates numbering a total of 29,098 stood as verified and being a resident of Delhi who has enrolled with the BCD. 

It was argued that the outbreak of the Covid- 19 pandemic had made it necessary to provide the timely benefit of the insurance to the verified advocates. All the advocates who are residents of the State ought to be benefited from the scheme. If the scheme failed to provide benefits to the target subjects during this exceptional pandemic then the purpose of the welfare scheme would be rendered nugatory.  

Hence the High Court of Delhi issued directions to the Government of NCT Delhi for:

  • Immediate acquiring of insurance policies for the verified advocates. If any procedure for verification of the advocates is remaining then such procedure should be done parallelly. The Government should make sure that there is no delay in the implementation of the scheme. 
  • Issuance of Notice Inviting Tender (NIT), the Government should issue NIT by taking biddings from the insurance company. Within one week of this order passed, the government must issue NIT. Those companies, who would be awarded  the tender which would then provide for the group insurance and medi-claim insurance for 29,098 Advocates. 
  • To place the decision of the Government of NCT Delhi regarding the selection of the successful bidder before the High Court not later than two days before the next date of hearing. The approved list of advocates by the Bar Council of Delhi and the list of those advocates hailing from the NCR region who are registered with it shall also be placed on record before the High Court. 

Emerging issues with the current scheme

A plea was moved by an advocate Govinda Swaroop Chaturvedi before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court contending that the welfare scheme should be extended and applicable to all the advocates registered with BCD irrespective of whether they are on the electoral roll or not. According to the decision of the government of NCR Delhi, advocates who are registered with BCD and their names appear on the voters’ list are eligible for the benefit of the welfare scheme. A person who is enrolled in BCD, practices in Delhi Courts but does not reside in the national capital cannot avail the benefit of the welfare scheme as his name is not on the voter’s list. Thus, he argued that as per the enrollment condition under BCD, it states all the advocates practising in Delhi can be enrolled with BCD therefore advocates enrolled with BDC are entitled to the benefits of the welfare scheme. The discrimination on the ground that the person’s name does not appear on the voter’s list is unreasonable as contended by Mr. Chaturvedi. 

Relying on the judgement of Social Jurist (A Civil Rights Group) v. Government of NCT of Delhi & Ors (2018), he said, it is not permissible that the patients residing in Delhi and those coming from outside are to be discriminated against. 

Mr. Amarjit Singh Chandiok argued that as per the Bar Council of India Certificate and Place of Practice (Verification) Rules, 2015, the main aspect of the rule is the “place of practice”  and not the “place of residence” entitling the advocate for registering under the local Bar Council. Hence, he contended that it is unlawful and untenable that the distinction is done based on the residence of Delhi. By not extending the scheme to the advocates who do not reside in Delhi, is in fact discriminatory on the front. 

In November and December, on the basis of the data given by the BCD, quotations were submitted by the Life Insurance Corporation of India (“LIC”) and the New India Assurance Company Limited (“NIAC”). Perusing the status report filed by the Delhi Government it was observed by the court, that the quotation price at the opening was lower, but now the insurance companies have increased the amount substantially. The premium demanded by the insurance company has doubled since November and December 2019 due to changes in the demographic profile of the lawyers. It is doubled for both the group insurance policy and the medi-claim policy. The High Court directed that a meeting should be conducted and efforts should be made by LIC to find a solution for not increasing the premium of life insurance policies to such an extent of 2.5 times since November /December. 

The Chairman of Bar Council of Delhi, KC Mittal, said that:

“The insurance companies should not be profiteering from the coronavirus situation by increasing their rates three times than that which was initially quoted. The companies own a social obligation and duty towards the public at large. In December the LIC gave a rate of Rs.2.47 & 2.80 per thousand and now they have increased these rates to Rs. 7. Similarly, the rate given by the New India Assurance Company initially was Rs 8500 for an advocate plus three family members but now it is increased to 22000. Thus, he asserted that the increase in rates by the government insurance companies are unjustified and unfair profiteering”. 

Hence, a meeting was organised between the seniors of LIC and NIAC, the technical evaluation committee and representatives of BCD according to the Court order. In the meeting, after going through various bids the committee finalised the issuance of insurance policies with the Life Insurance Company and New India Assurance Company Limited.

  • For the group (term) Life Insurance policies, the final quotation for 28,774 lawyers is at Rs. 10,07,70,894/- 
  • For the medi-claim insurance policies a rate of Rs. 10,500 as per family premium payable for a total of 29,077 lawyers have been finalised. The co-payment has been finalised at 25 percent by the advocates. 
  • The NIAC also agreed to extend the policies to the 40,115 lawyers if the Delhi High Court decides to extend the benefits to the impugned lawyers. 

Justice Pratiba M Singh said, “As the figures have been finalised with the LIC for 28,774 lawyers and with NIAC for 29,077 lawyers, who are already registered with the BCD and have been verified, the Delhi Government should start purchasing insurance policies from the concerned companies on or before 30th of November.” 

As this is a group insurance policy, every lawyer who would benefit from the scheme would be provided with a letter by the respective insurance company. This is to specify that the group (term) insurance policy and the medi-claim policy have been purchased for the benefit of the concerned lawyer. 

The rates which have been approved are still higher than the rates which were mentioned in November/December. The decided figures are still under the overall approved budget of the Delhi government and hence being approved by the High Court. But there are apprehensions, that if the court extends the benefits to the lawyers of the National Capital Region then the budget might exceed and then the High Court again will take the issue under consideration.  

Comments from the Karnataka High Court 

The Karnataka High Court while hearing a suo-moto case which was initiated after the two letters from the patient suffering from the deadly Coronavirus who were struggling for getting immediate medical treatment at a reasonable price, suggested that the State government should constitute a meeting to ascertain whether a similar scheme can be instituted for the welfare of advocates as done by the Delhi government. 

Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar asked the state government “whether something could be done with the cooperation of Insurance companies like it was done by the Delhi government ”. In its order, it was noted that  “the state government has to consider making the said scheme, which would be applicable to the eligible members of the Bar, across the state.”

The Advocate’s Association of Bengaluru, by putting forward the order of Delhi High Court approving the CM advocate insurance scheme, dated October 7, 2020, submitted a memo after the direction of the Karnataka High Court. 

The Karnataka High Court gave a period of two weeks to the state government to respond and also sought a response from the central government on the matter, whether any committee has been formed by the Department of the Legal Affairs for the welfare of the advocates and whether the committee made any recommendations relating to the subject.   

The Karnataka High Court asked the state government to conduct a meeting between the Bar Association, state government, Life Insurance Corporation and officials of four public sector insurance companies to find out whether a similar scheme like that of the Delhi government could be derived. 

Further developments in the case

Govind Swaroop Chaturvedi v. State of NCT of Delhi & Ors. (2020), order dated 12 February 2021, the Court directed that:

  • The list of 29,077 lawyers should be exchanged between the NIAC, Government of NCT Delhi and BCD.
  • NIAC for issuing e-cards to all the lawyers whether verified or are under the process of verification. This is to ensure that all the lawyers numbering 29,007 shall be able to avail the Medi-claim policies from the date of inception irrespective of the verification process. 
  • The NIAC should appoint a representative of its TPA agency, who will expeditiously verify the data of the advocates and submit the same to the NIAC. 

Conclusion 

The CM Advocates welfare scheme was basically formed for the welfare of the advocates. If the advocates would not be benefitted from the scheme during the deadly outbreak of Coronavirus the main purpose of the scheme would be rendered nugatory. Therefore the Delhi High Court ordered the fast implementation of the scheme and rapid issuance of the insurance policies. But another hindrance arose before the scheme, that of an increase in rates of the insurance policies. The Delhi government then indulged in dialogue and finalised a rate for the insurance policies but it was slightly higher than the rates which were initially proposed by the insurance companies. The rates finalised are within the budget allocated for the scheme but, if the lawyers of the NCR region were included in the scheme then the High Court had to take the issue under consideration. The question of whether all the lawyers practicing in the National Capital Region are to be included under the welfare scheme is yet to be answered. 

References

  1. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/insurance-scheme-advocates-delhi-govt-karnataka-hc-170617
  2. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/hc-asks-delhi-govt-to-purchase-insurance-policies-before-november-30-under-cms-advocates-welfare-scheme/articleshow/78572772.cms
  3. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/delhi-hc-approves-insurance-policy-to-implement-cm-advocates-welfare-scheme-29077-advocates-identified-as-beneficiaries-164126
  4. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/premium-amount-delhi-hc-directs-insurance-companies-to-come-up-with-better-solutions-162129
  5. https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/niacl-bcd-389183.pdf
  6. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/delhi/hc-asks-govt-to-buy-lawyersinsurance-policies-before-nov-30/article32817329.ece

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