special report by Rahul Singh
Bhagalpur : A lengthy lockdown had increased the problems being faced by the junior advocate Dharmendra Kumar Yadav and hundreds of others like him practising in Bhagalpur court. Says Dharmendra,"This was a very difficult time for juniors working under their seniors at a meagre wage of 50 rupees." Another young advocate Rajiv Kumar says that corona-time was a disaster for him as he had to face a great amount of difficulty in depositing his EMIs against the loan taken.
Out of a total of lawyers registered with Bhagalpur Bar Association, only 60 percent are regular practitioners. And the reason is that while some take this profession as a hobby, others have to quit due to economic constraints. But an interesting part has been that the lockdown has further intensified the inactiveness and disinterest shown towards this profession.
Activism of lawyers further decreased
Many seniors as well as junior lawyers of Bhagalpur court had claimed that due to lockdown, around 200 to 250 lawyers had become inactive and had either left coming to the court or started coming casually.
A young lawyer Dharmendra Kumar Yadav says, "It is just not possible that you start earning 500 rupees per day as soon as you enter the court premises. Working under seniors, you have to start with a meagre income of Rs.50 per day." He further says, "When people enter this profession and fail to earn anything initially, they just quit the profession. But the problem arises when they do not get work anywhere else. When they tell that they have done LLB, they don't get any work because well-educated persons are considered highly qualified for ordinary jobs."
Dharmendra says, "We have got a status in the society, therefore it is a bit difficult for us to take up any work. That's why when declaring a lockdown, the government should extend financial help to us. In order to make the law profession attractive for youngsters, the government should extend permanent financial aid to them."
Dharmendra belongs to the backward caste. He underlines the very important fact that lawyers belonging to Scheduled caste and Scheduled tribes are proportionately very few. On top of it, economic frustration compels them to quit the field. This section of society is already economically weak and when there income gets reduced, they venture out into other fields.
For 38-years old young lawyer Rajkumar Ishwar ,who practices in the Bhagalpur court, lockdown created a lot of problems. Rajiv had taken a loan from a bank but sudden announcement of lockdown made it very difficult for him to deposit his EMIs on time. Rajiv had taken a loan from a bank in 1919 but suddenly lockdown was declared in March 2021. As a result all the work in the court was stopped. Rajiv too stopped coming to the court. Since all of his income was stopped, Rajiv faced great difficulty in paying the EMIs of the loan taken. Now since court has started working again, he is feeling a bit relieved.
However, Rajiv now feels that it was a mistake on his part to have taken a loan. Says he,"My decision to take a loan was wrong and it put a financial burden on me. Due to financial pressures, many lawyers have left the town for their home villages.
Rajive further says that the adverse impact of lockdown was that entire judicial process got stuck with the result that those clients had to now stay longer inside the prison who could have got the bail.
50 percent of the Cases are controlled by 10 percent of the lawyers. Junior lawyers are living like beggars !
For their brief, Junior lawyers are dependent on senior and established lawyers. An established senior lawyer generally has 5-6 juniors to assist him. These juniors get money directly from the clients. Sometimes the seniors also ask the clients to pay the juniors directly.Kishore Kumar Jha, a senior lawyer at Bhagalpur Court and Vice-president of Bhagalpur Bar Association, says that 60 percent of the lawyers earn 10,000 to 30,000 rupees per month only. It is very difficult to live a lower middle class life on such a meager income.
Impact of a lengthy lockdown
The Covid-19 lockdown had a three-dimensional ill effect on legal practice and court related matters. Firstly, it impacted the income of the lawyers. Since legal practice is a freelance profession, closure of the courts meant 100 percent cut in their income. And because 80 to 90 percent of the lawyers earn only an average amount of income, their family had to face a tough time. That's the reason why a number of them have become professionally inactive.
The second category was that of Clients whose cases were already listed but could not be heard due to lockdown. The result was that those who could have been freed early had to stay back longer inside the prison. Women receiving alimony and older parents had to face difficulties in receiving cash as courts were not there to enforce the compliance of the order.
Thirdly, It greatly affected the small shop owners within the court premises. The lives of hundreds of families are dependent on the earnings from tea shops, Xerox shops, stamp vending outlets, general stores, fruit shops etc. Ninety nine percent of these shops are run with a very small capital and are able to earn only a small amount of money. Hence, during the lockdown, they not only faced the problem of livelihood but also became heavily indebted.
The nature of cases in Bhagalpur Court
Most of the cases in Bhagalpur court are of the nature of dowry related atrocities and domestic violence. Sixty percent cases are related to dowry matters while 20 percent cases relate to kidnapping done for the purpose of marriage. under IPC 366A. While 10 percent cases relate to physical violence and waylaying, 10 percent belong to serious criminal activities.
On the basis of his experience, senior advocate Kishore Kumar Jha tells us that mental ego is the major cause of increase in the number of domestic violence related cases.In such cases at least one of the parties (husband or wife) fails to cooperate. We resolve such cases by winning the confidence of both the parties. This way these parties also feel that the matter was not a big deal.
Why is the judicial process slow in the court ?
The High Court had passed an order that no adverse order would be passed till 31st March 2021. Therefore very few clients come to the court and the normal working of the courts has been unable to start. The court follows the Covid protocol. Presently, the hearings are being conducted both virtually as well as physically.
When lockdown was unlocked and the courts started working again, the hearings were made virtual.Only e-filing of the cases was being done. But lawyers were facing difficulties as they were technically not equipped to handle digitisation of the legal processes. Moreover, the court too did not have the strong infrastructure for digital system with the result that the cases were not disposed off due to fault in server or similar technical glitches. And the lawyers had to suffer most as no cases meant no income.
Remembering those days, advocate Kishor Kumar Jha says that the problem was that while some work was surely being taken up but without substantial outcome.Hardly one or two cases were being disposed off.
Presently, there are one district judge and 9 upper district and session judges in Bhagalpur court. But lawyers say that if the judicial process is to be made more efficient then this number should be increased.
Gender and Community discrimination in Bhagalpur Court
There are 4900 members of Bhagalpur Bar Association. Out of these 3000 lawyers are active who keep on regularly frequenting the court. Around 2000 members are active in the electoral process of the Bar Association.
On the caste basis, Bhagalpur parliamentary constituency has 18.34 percent muslims and also the same percentage of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.Kushwaha and Kurmies constitute 14 percent. The Yadavs and other castes combine to make it 30 per cent. The representation of various branches of upper caste come after them only. This shows that while upper caste are only 1/3rd of the total population but they have 2/3rd representation in the legal profession.
Hailing from backward cast, advocate Om Prakash Yadav says that the representation of backwards in the legal ĺ is around 50 percent, though he admits that their proportional representation is less. Advocate Dharmendra Kumar Yadav says that the backwards,minorities and dalits are already come under the economically weaker sections of the society, so when they come here and fail to generate much income they move out to other professions.This applies to women lawyers also and that's the reason why they are less in numbers. The situation created by the lockdown has made the youngsters from the backward caste thoughroli dejected. These youngsters form the major portion of the lawyers quitting their profession.
The Gender gap in Bhagalpur Court, Women lawyers are less in numbers because there is no provision for salary of all the lawyers in Bhagalpur Court, women lawyers consist only 3 percent. They are around 150 in numbers. Feeling concerned about the gender gap in the court, senior lawyer and vice-president of Bhagalpur Bar Association, Kishor Kumar Jha says that in general women are less active in this profession but in this court the gender gap is much wider.
Senior advocate Bhavna Tiwari says that there are 150 women lawyers in Bhagalpur court and they take up all kinds of matters and also personally appear in the court. These women lawyers are able to work here because they have the support of their families. She also said that whether it is men or women, the strong family background is very important to establish oneself in this profession.
Senior advocate Veena Kumari Das says on the question of gender gap in the legal profession, 'In a job, one gets a salary but in this profession people get established gradually doing private practice. Their earning is dependent on the level of their practice. It is not necessary that they start earning the very first day of entering the court premises. In the fields of teaching and banking, you get the salary but here your daily practice decides your earnings. That's why there are lesser women in this field. But even these courageous women got a jolt from the lockdown and were forced to change their profession.
Advocate Mamta Kumari is practicing in Bhagalpur court for the last 10 years. She deals in criminal cases. She says that her experience has been good and has learnt a lot. However she also concedes that during lockdown, the work of women lawyers was greatly affected.
Neha Sharma is a young lawyer. She is practicing in the court for the last one year. She is very happy that she has been able to learn a lot here. But she also accepts the fact that in comparison to their male counterparts women lawyers were more affected by the lockdown and those who were enthusiastic to join the profession were now getting disillusioned.
Advocate Priti Kumari does accept that while there are many women in the teaching and banking sectors, their number is limited in the legal profession. And for this, she points out towards the economic uncertainty in the profession.
Why Muslims are less in numbers in the legal profession
Senior lawyer Inayatulla Khan does accept the lesser presence of muslims in the legal profession. He holds the lack of education among muslims responsible for this and feels that as the number of educated muslims increases, their numbers in the legal profession will also increase.
Inayatulla Khan gives encouragement to the lawyers from muslim community and has included many in his team of junior lawyers. Advocates Mohammad.Shariq Manjoor, Abu Bashar,Saiyad Bin Malik are some of the lawyers working with him and they also link lack of education to the less number of muslim lawyers.They say that as dalits and backwards are comparitively less in numbers, so is the case of muslim lawyers. They are convinced that this gap can be filled only by education.
While accepting that lockdown did affect the livelihood of lawyers,Inayatulla Khan says that since this profession involves daily practice, lockdown for such a long period had adversely affected most of the people associated with this profession. It had literally pushed them on the verge of hunger. Though Bhagalpur Bar Association did help the lawyers by giving a one-time financial aid of rupees 15,00 and State Bar Council giving 2000 rupees, but these support were too meager.
Only urgent matters were heard in the court
The working in the court was totally shut during the first round of lockdown. When in the month of June, the government started easing the restrictions, the hearing of very important matters started virtually through video conferencing.
Working in Bhagalpur court since 1977, senior advocate Nabhay Kumar Chaudhary says that he had never seen such a condition before and this all was beyond the imagination. He said that they started coming regularly to the court around Durga Puja but court has not been organised yet.
Senior advocate Kishore Kumar Jha says, 'When hearings of very important matters started virtually, only one or two cases were being taken up daily, there was no digital infrastructure and the whole period used to be over a result of the server not working. The people had to stay longer in the prisons during that time due to bad connectivity. After the court order, getting bail bond was very difficult.
Advocate Kishore Kumar Jha says that the bail bond of any prisoner travels through central jail, camp jail and female ward to Munger. During that time, only 10 to 20 cases used to be resolved.
The entry of people in court premises is still barred. In order to attend the hearing in the court,the clients have to get the passes which are issued by the Peshkar or other court officials. The lawyers are not required to take pass for lower courts but for entry in the High Court, they need to do so.
Mr.Jha says that during the lockdown, a number of measures were taken for the safety of Judges but nothing was done for the security of the lawyers.
President of Bhagalpur Bar Association, Abhaykant Jha says,'There was not a single section of society which didn't get government help during lockdown but lawyers were the only exception. We did write to the State Bar Council, Patna and the Bar Council of India, New Delhi about the deteriorating economic condition of the lawyers. As a result, the District Lawyers Association did give 1500 rupees per person to the lawyers as a relief amount and spent 42 lakh rupees. But the question was till what time this amount will last.
The scope for new lawyers
The new lawyers have to really work hard to get the new cases, to move ahead in the ladder and establish themselves. It was revealed that 10 to 20 percent lawyers have been controlling 50 percent of the cases.
Advocate Gangesh Kumar says that the condition of junior lawyers is very serious. They don't have their own brief and they keep doing the work assigned to them by their seniors.
Senior advocate Kishore Kumar Jha calls the prevailing economic condition of lawyers as silent unemployment. He says that he has been coming to this court since 1988 and feels that there is a large section of lawyers which is constantly under silent unemployment. The lockdown has increased it further.
Dilemma within the Association has harmed the interests of the lawyers.
Senior advocate of Bhagalpur court Rajiv Kumar Singh says that there exists a dilemma within the organisation. Even the President and General secretary of Bhagalpur Bar Association are at loggerheads. So in the absence of mutual coordination, the needy lawyers fail to get the required help. Mr. Singh also talks about the caste consolidation among the lawyers and it's bad impact on their interests.
Similarly another advocate talked about the caste equations and its impact on the Bar Council elections. He said that such is the impact of caste that people come closer to you or move away from you by identifying your caste. Caste consolidation also puts more weight on the shoulders of young lawyers for moving forward and establishing themselves. This also leads to economic loss to them.
Advocate Rajiv Kumar Ishwar says that there are around 50 young lawyers whose medical bills ranging from 3 to 5 thousand rupees have not been cleared by the Association while fatter medical bills of senior lawyers are cleared quickly. Even easy and cheap alternatives like Group Insurance has also not been adopted for the juniors.
The adverse impact of Covid-19
According to General secretary of Bhagalpur Bar Association Shri Sanjay Kumar Modi, during the lockdown,the condition of lawyers became from bad to worse but no government help came forward. On the contrary, the Association made available a financial help of 1500 rupees each to all the lawyers. The needy die due to the shortage of money and no attention has been given to their social security. We had raised the demand in front of the government and had organized the protests and sit-ins. Sanjay Kumar claims that during the lockdown at least a dozen lawyers of Bhagalpur court lost their lives and one of the reasons behind this has been the economic crisis.
The difficulties faced by the clients
A resident of Khairaya village of Akbar nagar in Bhagalpur Shishir Ranjan Singh is doing Phd in computer science from Bhagalpur university and is also a student leader. He is facing a number of cases related to the land dispute in the university as well as in the village.
Talking about the impact of the lockdown, Shishir says that he got a warrant issued in March last year but then the lockdown was declared suddenly. So the warrant could not reach the police post and that man is still roaming free. He says that if the case is handled properly, then the culprit (whether he or me ) will be punished and the case will also be over. Speedy trial of the cases will save people from lots of problems.
Sunil Kumar Jha of Ambesalepur in Bhagalpur district works in CISF.He is facing an 8-year old case pertaining to Dowry atrocities.A criminal case under section 302 is labeled against Sunil Jha and his elder brother Anil Jha. Already his case was unnecessarily getting delayed and got further delayed due to lockdown.
Mohammad Afsar Ansari of Navgachiya, Bhagalpur has a civil case in the Bhagalpur Court. His case pertaining to land-dispute also got delayed and now he is upset because he has to take frequent rounds of Bhagalpur court.
Senior advocate and the president of the Association, Abhay Kant Jha says,' Two courts are still in virtual mode but rest of the courts have come back in physical mode. Still the work has not gained the momentum. There are around 1000 bail orders pending and in Patna High Court this number is around 20,000.
The Condition of Street-vendors and Stationers
Thirty nine years old Pramod Kumar Tanti runs a small shop called 'Gumti' in the premises of Bhagalpur court. He says,'The shop has still not picked up the business like what was in February, last year. In comparison to last year, the sale is half this year. This is perhaps because less people are visiting the court.
During the lockdown, Pramod Kumar managed to meet his daily needs with the loan of 20,000 rupees which he borrowed from his fellow lawyer. He says,'I have 4 LIC policies and their premiums are still pending.I have two children whose tuition has been discontinued and school fee has not been deposited. His father Suresh Tanti runs a sattu shop in the court premises.His father had got prepared 1 quintal of sattu last year. But due to lockdown,the shop remained closed through the whole of summer and the Sattu was unable to be sold.
Say Poonam Devi and Reena Devi, who sell fruits on the pavement inside the court premises,'Their shop remained closed for 9 months and they were forced to meet their daily bread by borrowing.
What is important is the fact that whether it is Pramod Tanti or Poonam and Reena,they all denied having received 10 thousands rupees as help to street vendors which was promised by the Modi government as part of the 20 lac crore package announced .
Mohammad Kamruddin is a typist and earns his bread by typing on an old typewriter. He daily comes to the Bhagalpur court from Sabaur's Fatehpur. During lockdown, they had to face a lot of problems due to stoppage of work. He says that in comparison to last year,the available work is just 40 percent.
And this reality is not of Kamaruddin alone but it fits into 9 out of 10 people active in the court premises.
(This report is part of a project supported by Thakur Family Foundation. Thakur Family Foundation has not put any kind of editorial control over this project.)