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Telangana High Court Dismisses Plea Challenging Debarring Of Advocates Aged Above 35 From Applying To Welfare Fund

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The Telangana High Court upheld the Section 15 of the Telangana Advocates’ Welfare Fund Act, 1987 which debars advocates who have crossed the age of 35 years from the benefit of applying to the Welfare Fund.

“When an advocate below the age of 35 years applies for membership of the Fund, it would mean that he is an advocate who has joined the profession from the law school without any employment with terminal benefits in the interregnum.”, the bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Ujjal Bhuyan observed while dismissing a writ petition filed by a lawyer Mohammed Ajaz Ali Khan.

Khan had contended that such restriction is discriminatory as it debars advocates who have crossed the age of 35 years from the benefit of the Welfare Fund. On the other hand, the Bar Council contended that the lawyers who enroll themselves after their retirement from government services and continue to receive pension and other terminal benefits, who basically join this field in search of greener pastures in the evening of their lives cannot and should not be equated with those who have devoted their whole lives to the profession.

Section 15 (1) says that every advocate below the age of 35 years practicing in any court in the State and being a member of a Bar Association recognized by the Bar Council may apply to the committee for admission as a member of the Fund in such form as may be prescribed.

Referring to the decision in S.Seshachalam V. Chairman, Bar Council of Tamil Nadu (2014) 16 SCC 72, the bench, while dismissing his writ petition, observed:

“Though the above analysis by the Supreme Court was on a somewhat different context i.e. classification of advocates into those who join the profession after superannuating from service and those who join the profession straight away from the law schools, nonetheless, the fact remains that the legislature has consciously provided a cut off age limit of 35 years for being eligible to be a member of the Fund. Section 15 (1) of the Act as it originally stood, did not prescribe any age bar. However, in 1998, it was amended to restrict advocates below the age of 65 years as being eligible to be a member of the Fund. As we have already noticed above, when this amended provision was in force from 1998 to 2006, petitioner did not apply for membership of the Fund. In 2006 Section 15 (1) was further amended prescribing eligibility limit of below 35 years. The legislative intent of prescribing age limit of below 35 years to be eligible for membership of the Fund is clearly deducible from the classification noted above. It is expected that when an advocate below the age of 35 years applies for membership of the Fund, it would mean that he is an advocate who has joined the profession from the law school without any employment with terminal benefits in the interregnum.”

In S.Seshachalam, the challenge was against the Section 16 Explanation II (5) of Tamil Nadu Advocates’ Welfare Fund Act, 1987 denying the payment of two lakh rupees to the kin of advocates receiving pension or gratuity or other terminal benefits. Similar challenge was made to Section 1(3) of the Bihar State Advocates’ Welfare Fund Act 1983 which excludes the persons who have retired from service and are in receipt of retiral benefits from their employers from the purview of the Bihar State Advocates’ Welfare Fund Act. In its judgment, the court had observed thus:

“28. The various welfare fund schemes are in actuality intended for the benefit of those who are in the greatest need of them. The lawyers, straight after their enrolment, who join the legal profession with high hopes and expectations and dedicate their whole lives to the professions are the real deservers. Lawyers who enroll themselves after their retirement from government services and continue to receive pension and other terminal benefits, who basically join this field in search of greener pastures in the evening of their lives cannot and should not be equated with those who have devoted their whole lives to the profession. For these retired persons, some amount of financial stability is ensured in view of the pension and terminal benefits and making them eligible for lump sum welfare fund under the Act would actually amount to double benefits. Therefore, in our considered view, the classification of lawyers into these two categories is a reasonable classification having a nexus with the object of the Act.

Case: Mohammed Ajaz Ali Khan vs State of Telangana