No question of ‘importing’ law officers: Punjab AG Atul Nanda
Even as government is yet to notify the act on appointments of law officers, it has come under criticism over its criterion with a section of lawyers at the Punjab and Haryana high court expressing resentment over enhanced criterion of income and experience. The appointments at state’s advocate general office have been courting controversies for years and successive governments have faced allegations of making appointments of those close to corridors of power, that too in excess to work load. The previous SAD-BJP government had close to 200 law officers in Delhi and Chandigarh, which prompted the SC to issue directions to state to frame rules. It is for the first time that Punjab government has proposed to have a criterion but it too is inviting criticism and being termed for “rich and highly experienced” advocates. Advocate general, Punjab, Atul Nanda answers HT’s queries.
Why is criteria proposed by the government to appoint law officer facing flak?
For putting “stringent criteria” in place, we should get appreciation not brickbats. Had we come up with a weak criterion, I would have welcomed the criticism. But it is not so. Hence, criticism is uncalled for. But it’s not stringent at all. Criteria are in tune with the times and taking into account factors such as fee being charged by lawyers. Legislature has fixed a criterion on the Supreme Court directions, which will attract talent and will help in a transparent selection process.
It is being termed the criteria for “rich and experienced” advocates.
If a lawyer is helping a poor and charging merely Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per case and getting three cases a month, he makes the cut for appointment. Take example of additional advocate general, if apart from retainership, he argues two-three private cases in a month, which is not a big deal. He becomes eligible. Look at the state’s finances. It is in doldrums. We have been losing due to poor assistance in courts and losing money. Also, we want lesser burden on government in terms of expenditure of the AG office. We want competent people who can guard interests of the state. Look what I have inherited… 42 law officers in Delhi, where you have 12 courts (in SC) and pendency is only 3,000 cases. My predecessor might have his own compulsions, but I can’t justify this.
It is being alleged that the criteria has been fixed to import lawyers (from Delhi).
There is no question about it. We will have law officers for Chandigarh office from amongst lawyers here and for Delhi office from there only.
Questions are also being raised over Punjabi not being part of eligibility conditions?
English is the official language in courts here. Local lawyers are well versed with Punjabi. This is not an issue.