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Delhi law department refuses to clear lawyers’ bills; AAP lashes back

Updated on Nov 30, 2022 03:30 AM IST

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal hit back at the LG and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying that stopping payment to lawyers engaged by the government was “wrong” and charged them with obstructing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s works in Delhi.

The law department also turned down a bill amounting to 15,50,000 submitted by senior advocate Kapil Sibal . (HT Archive)

New Delhi: The Delhi government’s law department has refused to clear the bills of several senior advocates, hired by law minister Kailash Gahlot to represent the government in the Delhi high court, citing non-compliance of financial rules and procedural lapses in the terms of their engagement, a senior official in the lieutenant governor’s (LG) office aware of the matter said on Tuesday.

Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal hit back at the LG and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying that stopping payment to lawyers engaged by the government was “wrong” and charged them with obstructing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s works in Delhi.

The official quoted above said that payment of bills “running into crores” was stopped as no prior sanction had been taken from the finance department.

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He added that the law department also turned down a bill amounting to 15,50,000 submitted by senior advocate Kapil Sibal and a bill of 9,80,000 submitted by senior advocate Rahul Mehra. “The law department has cited a departure from rules put in place by the Delhi government for engagement of senior advocates and advocates on record. The department has also not agreed to the very appointment of certain lawyers who were engaged directly by law minister Gehlot without following the due process,” the official added, requesting anonymity. HT has seen the document intimating the law department’s inability to process the bills.

The official added that the correct procedure for engaging and paying senior advocates on behalf of the government in Supreme Court and high court involves the a prior agreement of the amount before their engagement and then getting this amount cleared by the finance department. “Only after getting clearance from the finance department, seeking approval of the law minister, and then approval by the LG, can a person be engaged,” he said.

“The principal secretary (law) has now submitted a report to the law minister intimating the department’s inability to process the matter in view of the violation of rules,” he added.

Kejriwal called the action inappropriate and alleged that the LG has been obstructing the works of the AAP government over the last six months and its impact will be visible in the results of MCD elections.

“They are creating hurdles in every single project. Earlier, they stopped Yoga classes and measures being taken to control pollution. Now, lawyers’ payments have been halted. People do not like people who obstruct works and this impact will be visible in the municipal election results,” he said.

“If he (LG) continues to act in this manner, we will also win the BJP’s seven seats with a bumper margin next time,” he added in an apparent reference to the BJP’a seven parliamentary seats.

The chief minister was referring to the Dilli Ki Yogshala and “Red Light on, Gaadi Off” projects-- the files were not cleared by the LG office last month, leading to several protests by the AAP.

Meanwhile, Gahlot cited a 2019 Cabinet decision in his defence, arguing that in accordance with the decision, he does not need to seek the finance department’s approval, and the refusal to clear bills was causing “acute embarrassment” to the government.

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Gahlot said that the procedure for engagement of counsels in Supreme Court and High Court is now regulated by a Cabinet decision dated October 10, 2019, according to which the administrative department engages a counsel after getting approval of engagement from the minister-in-charge. Payment is to be made after seeking approval from minister-in-charge as well. “The Cabinet decision also says that in case of an emergency, when it is not possible to seek formal approval on file, it shall be obtained verbally from minister and ex-post facto approval will be obtained later. The Cabinet had noted that bills of advocates were pending in various departments, bringing a bad name to the Delhi government in legal fraternity. The Cabinet had, therefore, decided that the bills shall be cleared after obtaining ex-post facto approval from minister and this procedure will supersede all earlier orders, decisions, minutes of meetings issued by various authorities in this regard,” he added.

The law minister added that despite the decision, the law department has now refused to clear the bills of various senior counsels, which is causing acute embarrassment to the government. “The Cabinet decision does not make it essential to seek approval of finance department. It is not possible to fix the fee structure of senior counsels as it varies greatly from counsel to counsel and also depends upon the matter pending before the court,” Gahlot said.

Mehra and Sibal declined to comment on the matter.

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