Above: (L-R) The office of the Madhya Pradesh advocate general and Purshendra Kaurav
The Madhya Pradesh legal officers are getting big bucks as the government hikes their honorariums manifold even as it uses the services of expensive private lawyers for important cases
~By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has one of the highest paid legal teams in the country to represent it in three benches of the Madhya Pradesh High Court—Jabalpur, Indore and Gwalior. A total of 143 government advocates, including the advocate general, six additional advocate generals, six deputy advocate generals and 130 advocates draw cumulative honorariums (amount paid for a certain job for a fixed time) of Rs 1.85 crore per month.
This is in addition to the payment the state government gives as fees to private lawyers and its standing counsel who represent the government in the High Court and Supreme Court in important matters. Despite the huge team of government lawyers, the MP cabinet felt the need to bring in the State Litigation Management Policy, 2018, in April which provides for engaging private lawyers to fight important cases. The policy was revised after seven years, essentially to check the alarming rise in cases lost by the government against its staff on various service and other matters.
On July 31, the law department extended the one-year period of the legal team en masse by six months. Till August last year, the honorariums of government advocates in the state were almost on a par with their counterparts in other states. However, the Chouhan government suddenly became overgenerous and hiked their honorariums almost three-fold through a cabinet decision.
For example, the advocate general’s honorarium was hiked from Rs 80,500 to Rs 1.80 lakh. With other perks, total benefits come to around Rs 2.5 lakh a month. This is on a par with the salary of the assembly speaker and state ministers. The additional advocate general’s honorarium was raised from Rs 63,250 to Rs 1.75 lakh and that of deputy advocate general from Rs 57,500 to Rs 1.60 lakh. Likewise, a government advocate’s honorarium shot up from Rs 40,250 to Rs 1.25 lakh and the deputy government advocate’s from Rs 34,500 to Rs 1 lakh per month.
Government advocates are mostly political appointees. The state’s advocate general, Purshendra Kaurav, is a former member of the RSS’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. He was rewarded with the post last year for his role in defending the government in Vyapam scam-related cases in the High Court. He picked his team of subordinates from among those who were either associated with the BJP or were recommended by its leaders (see box).
Though the law department was unable to provide the break-up of honorariums of government advocates in other states, sources said they are certain that MP’s expenditure on its legal team is among the highest. In most states, the honorariums vary from Rs 30,000 to Rs 80,000 for government advocates, ranging from the advocate general to deputy advocates, they aver.
In contrast, the Madhya Pradesh High Court is facing an acute shortage of judges. It has 53 sanctioned posts for judges, including 40 permanent and 13 additional ones. However, its three benches have only 34 permanent judges.
The MP High Court’s principal bench in Jabalpur has 60 government advocates, including the advocate general. The Indore and Gwalior benches have 40 and 30 advocates, respectively. The government has sanctioned more posts of joint, deputy and assistant commissioners of litigation and coordination to assist the government advocates. These posts, however, are sanctioned from the government secretariat and therefore, the post-holders are government officers, not advocates.
Many High Court judges have pointed out during hearings that although government advocates far outnumber judges, they often seek more time to give replies while representing the state government’s cases.
According to the new State Litigation Management Policy, if the state government loses any case in court, the officer responsible for it will have to face the music, but strangely, there is no provision for penal action against such advocates. Instead, the policy has authorised the state’s various departments to engage private lawyers to fight their important cases which involve public interest.
In cases that MP is fighting in the Supreme Court, it has engaged eminent lawyers who charge fat fees. Pendency in the three benches of the MP High Court has risen to almost 2.48 lakh cases. The state government is a respondent in nearly 70 percent of the total cases.
Sources in the law department say that apart from cases related to reservation in promotion, every fifth officer or employee is approaching the court against the state government over service matters. Madhya Pradesh has a total 4.5 lakh employees and officers and 85,000 of them have moved courts against the state government over service matters.
With over 10,000 cases being added every year, the government is losing Rs 10 crore annually from the coffers, sources said. In order to ease the burden on its legal team, the government has decided in its litigation policy that only those cases will be pursued in higher courts that involve public interest. In other cases it loses in lower courts, the government will refrain from appealing to the High Court or the Supreme Court.
The legal profession in this state is an attractive proposition. If government advocates are drawing a handsome package with little accountability, private lawyers are doing even better, having managed to force the state to implement the Advocate Protection Act recently.
It helps to be a lawyer here.