The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) via its resolution passed on April 22, has decided to file an intervention application in a PIL filed by Advocate Aljo K Joseph seeking an exemption for lawyers from paying rent for professional premises during the COVID-19 lockdown.
About the PIL
Advocate Aljo K Joseph had recently filed a PIL before the Supreme Court urging that directions be issued so that advocates are exempted from paying rent for their professional premises during the COVID-19 lockdown.
In this regard, Joseph also prayed that the Court directs that the national lockdown be treated as ‘Force Majeure’ period, thereby exempting advocates from paying rent during this period.
The SCBA decided to file an intervention application in this PIL, seeking to be made a party. Since the PIL concerns the legal fraternity and touches upon the concerns of lawyers, it was proposed by a member of the Executive Committee of the SCBA that an intervention application should be filed by the SCBA in the matter.
In a Resolution dated April 22, the EC of the SCBA has resolved to move the Supreme Court with an intervention application in the case titled Aljo K. Joseph vs Union of India & Anr.
The petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for issuance of a Writ of Mandamus directing the Respondent to formulate an appropriate scheme to support the Advocates and other professionals of the country from paying their rent exclusively for the professional premises.
Facts of the Case
The Lockdown due to the COVID-19 was declared on 24th of March 2020 by the government of India and due to the said lockdown, none of the professionals especially lawyers can practice their profession.
Since there is no financial protection given to lawyers and other professionals by the Government of India, the present petition has been filed to urge grievances and hardship caused to the lawyers and professionals in this country due to the COVID-19 and unavoidable lockdown pursuant to the epidemic situation in India.
“The petitioner and the members of the bar are having no income in the past weeks due to the lockdown which has been declared without any consultation or deliberation with the professionals. The Government has declared many schemes for the students, migrant workers etc. but insofar as lawyers are concerned, nothing at all has come about”.
He has contended that the inaction of the government in supporting lawyers has ultimately affected their Right to Livelihood protected under Article 19 of the Constitution, in so vacate their office premises.
The petitioners further submitted that:
“As a matter of right, invoke non-payment due to a Force Majeure event in the absence of a supporting clause and/or a specific rent waiver agreed under the contract is not possible. If the lease agreement does provide for stoppage of rent or suspension of all obligations during a Force Majeure period without any qualification or riders, then the lessee should immediately exercise its right by issuing a letter to the lessor invoking Force Majeure event and intimating cessation of its obligation to pay lease rental during the period the Force Majeure event continues. In the present situation, the lessee was not in a position to issue any letter to the lessor nor was in a position to pay the payment to the Landlord,”.
It further states,
“A person who especially carried out professional activity won’t be able to earn anything for his livelihood unless he works. As stated in Part III of Constitution Of India right to life and practice any profession is a fundamental right and such a situation if it arose due to the pandemic and continuing lockdown, if the professionals are forced to vacate the professional/office premises and or pay the rent during continuing lockdown period, it violates constitutional guarantee under part III of the Constitution of India,”.
According to a meeting of the Executive Committee of SCBA, a resolution was passed to voice the plight of lawyers who face difficulties in making ends meet, in the absence of regular litigation activities. It was agreed that it is a matter of concern for the legal fraternity at large, and must thus be pursued.
“As stated in part III of the Constitution of India, Right to Life and practice any profession is a fundamental right and such a situation if it arose due to the pandemic and continuing lockdown if the professionals are forced to vacate the professional premises and or pay the rent during this pandemic continuing lockdown, it would also affect the constitutional guarantee under part III of the Constitution of India,”.
It was submitted that the plea of Force Majeure is available only if there is a damage or destruction of the property leading to its unavailability for use by the lessee, not being the case herein.
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Very nicely written. Clear explanations with facts.