UP standing counsel list 'deserves to be quashed', but HC gives govt time to review
The controversy surrounding the appointment of Uttar Pradesh's standing counsels took a new turn on Friday when the Allahabad High Court found gross anomalies in the list of 201 newly-appointed state law officers, which the state government released on 7 July.
The bench of Justice AP Sahi and Justice SK Singh directed the state government to review the entire list by 11 August. It said the list deserved to be quashed instantly, but this would hold up court work badly, which is why it was restraining itself for now.
A bench of Justice Sahi and Justice RN Mishra had, on Thursday, summoned records to see if the list had the approval of the Advocate-General, and if the procedure laid down in the Legal Remembrancer's manual was followed. After perusing the records, the court found that the list was not approved by the Advocate-General, and that he was consulted only at the initial stage of the preparation of the list.
Beginning of the brouhaha
When the list was released on 7 July, pro-Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh lawyers hit out at state law minister Brajesh Pathak and Advocate-General Raghvendra Singh for retaining pro-Samajwadi Party lawyers.
Both Pathak and Singh were summoned by the RSS brass, after some aggrieved lawyers approached them. The two denied any wrongdoing, and said they had not seen the list.
It is now being alleged that the outgoing Legal Remembrancer had released the names of new law officers.
As the dirt hit the ceiling, it was revealed that there were over a dozen lawyers among the beneficiaries who were not even registered as advocates, and did not practice in the High Court.
A member of the Adhivakta Sangh, a pro-BJP body of lawyers, questioned the wisdom behind appointing such persons as government advocates.
Peeved at the appointments, a woman lawyer expressed shock on not finding her name in the list despite being backed by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, while another woman lawyer, Ranjana Agnihotri, resigned from her post of government counsel. Agnihotri was associated with the Ram Janmbhoomi case.
Former media in-charge Anita Agarwal also refused to join as government counsel as a mark of protest.
These lawyers were especially angry at the re-appointment of the son former Samajwadi Party minister Shivakant Ojha.
Sources in the BJP said that besides the 50 lawyers appointed by the Samajwadi Party government, there were 79 other advocates whose allegiance was suspect.
When minister Pathak and Advocate-General Singh expressed their ignorance about how those names came to be included, and said that they had no role in finalising the list, Sangh bosses wanted to know if the list could be recalled.
The petitioner contended that the appointments were not in accordance with valid procedure. To this, the bench had said on Thursday: “Consequently, this court finds it imperative to peruse the records relating to the said procedure, and any communications made, including that of the office of the learned Advocate-General, in order to ascertain as to whether the procedure has been followed, it will be open to the state government to review its decision in this regard.”
The court had, however, refused to issue any interim order.
Earlier, in a strong indictment, the court had observed that it had been facing constraint “for the last more than a week”, due to the “non-availability of competent standing counsels to argue the matter”.
The judges said that since the new panel had been formed, the “learned standing counsels or brief holders, as the case may be, we find, are not well versed with the cases…and many times even the files of the cases, which are called, are not available with them.”
What is the procedure?
Explaining the procedure of appointing government counsels, a former principal secretary of the law department told Catch: “Technically, the LR moves the names and the list is approved by the law minister. The Advocate-General has little role to play, as he can only suggest a few names.”
The present situation turned complicated as both the law minister and the A-G washed their hands of the list. In that case, did the former LR released the names after consulting Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath?
Interestingly, the former LR said that “50% of the government counsels don't have a practice of their own and take up these assignments as their monthly salary ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 3-4 lakh. For many of them, it is a paid holiday. With the state being the biggest litigant, most of the times it ends up losing cases for this reason. There are no criteria, other than loyalty to party, for making these appointments,” he said.