The Allahabad High Court said that an advocate or a legal practitioner is duty-bound to act as an officer of the Court. The Lawyers chambers / offices shall be charged only under Domestic category as the lawyers neither do any trade or business nor are involved in any commercial activity.
The Division Bench of Justice Surya Prakash Kesarwani and Justice Anish Kumar Gupta heard the petition filed by Tehsil Bar Association , Sadar Tehsil Parisar, Gandhi Nagar, Ghaziabad.
In this petition, the petitioner, Tehsil Bar Association, Sadar Tehsil Parisar, Gandhi Nagar, Ghaziabad, is an association of advocates registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860.
The members of the petitioner association are the advocates engaged in a legal practice and all the advocates have got their chambers at the Tehsil Sadar campus with valid electricity connection installed by the respondent Power Corporation.
As per the tariff schedule for Financial Year 2016-17 available on the website of respondent Power Corporation, the residential premises of professionals such as advocates including their chambers are treated as domestic and well covered under schedule LMV-1.
After the grant of electricity connection in the chambers of such advocates the respondent started charging the electricity charges at commercial rates which were objected by the petitioner association and since their grievances were not redressed, they filed the petition (Tehsil Bar Association and 12 others v State of UP and 6 others), which was disposed of by the Court vide order dated 22.02.2019, as under:-
“Vivek Prakash Mishra, counsel for the petitioners.
By means of the petition, the petitioners have come to the Court raising a grievance that in the court campus of Tehsil Bar Association, Sadar Tehsil, Gandhi Nagar district Ghaziabad in the advocates chamber, the electricity connection has been installed and the bill is being charged on commercial basis whereas tariff schedule for the Financial Year 2016-17 clearly states that LMV-1 (domestic) would be applicable to the chambers of professionals such as advocates, doctors, artists, consultants etc. Under the Right to Information Act, the information supplied to the petitioner on 13.8.2017 is that the meters installed in the advocates’ chamber come under the domestic category. However, it is stated that the bills are being sent for the commercial category.
The petition is disposed of with the observations that in case the petitioners make a representation to the Executive Engineer, Paschimanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Ltd, Meerut, the same be considered and appropriate orders be passed and, if so required, electricity bills be corrected. The said decision shall be taken by the Executive Engineer within a period of two months from the date a certified copy of this order is produced before him. “
In the aforesaid order, it was categorically observed that the tariff schedule for the Financial Year 2016-17 clearly states that LMV-1, domestic rates would be applicable to the chambers of professionals such as advocates, doctors, artists, consultants etc. It was observed that under the Right to Information, the information supplied on 13.08.2017, it is categorically stated that the electricity connection installed in the chambers of advocates in District and Sessions Court, Ghaziabad, were issued under domestic category and the electricity charges are charged upon as per the tariff rates LMV-1 as determined by the UP State Electricity Regulatory Commission.
In terms of the aforesaid order dated 22.02.2019 passed by the Court, the petitioner association made a representation before the respondent no 4, which has been disposed of by order dated 27.07.2019. The respondent no 4, relying upon clause 3.3 (e) of the UP Electricity Supply Code, 2005, observed that since the chambers of the advocates in the tehsil compound are not in the category of domestic use of electricity, therefore, electricity consumed cannot be treated as domestic consumption.
Aggrieved by the order dated 27.07.2019, the petitioner has filed the petition praying for the following relief:-
“I. Issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of certiorari to quash impugned order dated 27.07.2019 passed by the respondents (Annexure No.6 to this writ petition).
II. Issue a writ order or direction in the nature of mandamus directing to the respondents to stop the arbitrary act of the respondents whereby they have. treated them as commercial power users and continuously sent electricity bills with levied commercial tariff plan @ Rs 8.50 per unit.
III. Issue a writ order or direction in the nature of mandamus directing the respondents to re-adjust the extra bill paid amount as commercial users being treated as domestic power users.
IV. Issue a writ order or direction in the nature of mandamus directing to the respondents to stop the recovery of current bill from petitioner Association and its members till disposal of its conversion into domestic bills.
V. Issue any other suitable writ, order of direction, which the court may deem fit and proper in the circumstances of the case.
VI. Award costs of the writ petition to the petitioner.”
Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the profession of an advocate is not a commercial activity rather it is service to the society and the lawyers are active players in the administration of justice like the judges. Professional activity by an advocate or a Judge goes side by side on the bar and both are the same profession. The functions of each are different but it is the same profession, the object is administration of justice according to law. Therefore, the lawyers’ profession is a kind of profession which can be said to be carried out as social service, which is certainly not a profession of commercial nature. Therefore, the commercial rates of electricity, supplied to the Chambers of advocates in the court campus cannot be applied and they must be charged as per the domestic schedule of electricity supply.
The Court said that an advocate or a legal practitioner is duty-bound to act as an officer of the Court. An advocate is prohibited to do any business or involve in any commercial activity and they are also restrained by the rules framed by the Bar Council of India from advertising their professional activities. The Bar Council of India has also defined the duties of an Advocate towards his client and towards the Court, towards colleagues and opponents. An advocate is prohibited from creating any self interest in the subject matter of the case, for he is engaged. He cannot stipulate a fee contingent on the result of the case nor he can agree to share the proceeds of the case. All these are the features, which categorically distinguish the legal profession from the trade or business. Therefore, the legal profession by no stretch of imagination can be called commercial activity, trade or business.
The Court held that the legal profession is not a commercial activity, involving any trade or business, the rates schedule LMV-2, which is phrased as ‘non-domestic users under the LMV-2, categorically indicates commercial activities, which are purely commercial relating to trade and business. Hence the said rates schedule cannot be applied to the offices of the legal professionals, whether such offices are in the residential buildings or are situated in the court premises. The lawyers’ chambers, which are within the court compounds are part of the judicial premises, whereas per the circular dated 28.11.1983, LMV-1 is applicable. The circular dated 08.10.1985 also mandated that the office of a lawyer or firm of a lawyer is to be billed at the rate schedule LMV-1 applicable to domestic light and power consumers, which is an established practice. However, in the rate schedule issued for the financial year 2022-23, the lawyer’s profession or activities do not find place in any of the rate schedules prescribed. Merely because of Clause – 13 of the rate schedule, which is a residuary clause, the rate Schedule LMV-2, which is applicable to commercial activities, cannot be applied in case of the lawyer’s chambers in Court premises.
It has been argued by the counsel for the petitioner that after the order dated 22.02.2019 passed by the Court in earlier Writ Petition, the Noida Power Corporation Limited has started to charge for the electricity consumption at the Lawyers Chambers situated in Court Compound, Surajpur District Courts of District Gautam Budh Nagar as per the rate schedule LMV-1. Hence, the petitioner also being similarly situated cannot be treated differently and the same rate schedule ought to have been applied to their chambers as well. In support of their contention the petitioner has also produced a copy of the electricity bill dated 31.12.2022 of one such lawyer’s chamber, the Court noted.
In view of the aforesaid conclusions, the Court sum up the answers to the issues raised in the petition in the following manner:
- The activities/profession of an advocate is a not a commercial activity, attracting the commercial rate of electricity consumption as prescribed in Rate Schedule LMV-2, as applicable in the State of U.P approved by the U.P Electricity Regulatory Commission.
- The Rate Schedule LMV-2, which is applicable for the commercial activities, cannot be applied for the electricity supplied to the Lawyers Chambers. The Lawyers chambers / offices shall be charged only under LMV-1 Domestic category as the lawyers neither do any trade or business nor are involved in any commercial activity.
- The respondents cannot discriminate between the electricity supply to the advocates’ chambers in different court compounds, in the same State, where the rate schedules are approved by the same authority.
Thus in view of the above discussion, the Court allowed the petition.
The Court directed the respondents to charge for the consumption of electricity by the lawyers in their chambers in the court premises as per the rate schedule LMV-I as approved by the U.P Electricity Regulatory Commission.