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Sunday, May 09, 2021

After ‘costly’ tag, Delhi advocate loses Rs 3.1 crore in legal fee

Four days before the HC ordered quashing of investigations by SIT into Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura firing incidents, the Punjab government had ordered slashing of Advocate Harin P Raval’s fee by 1.5 times, after Punjab’s Home Secretary Anurag Agarwal raised the objections over “high” amount charged by him.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
Updated: April 17, 2021 9:35:38 am
Raval had appeared in 21 hearings representing the state of Punjab, through video-conferencing, in two cases including Bargari sacrilege (Sukhjinder Singh alias Sunny vs state of Punjab) and another (Gurdeep Singh vs State of Punjab), in which the HC finally quashed the investigation by SIT led by IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap.

The Punjab government will pay Rs 2.10 crore to a Delhi-based lawyer for appearing on its behalf in a case in Punjab and Haryana High court involving the Bargari sacrilege.

Four days before the HC ordered quashing of investigations by SIT into Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura firing incidents, the Punjab government had ordered slashing of Advocate Harin P Raval’s fee by 1.5 times, after Punjab’s Home Secretary Anurag Agarwal raised the objections over “high” amount charged by him. After the revised orders by the Finance Department, the lawyer will now get Rs 2.10 crore for his appearance in 21 hearings. The government would have owed him Rs 5.2 crore had they gone ahead with Rs 25 lakh peer hearing fee that the legal department had promised him.

Raval had appeared in 21 hearings representing the state of Punjab, through video-conferencing, including Bargari sacrilege (Sukhjinder Singh alias Sunny vs state of Punjab).

The lawyer had demanded a fee of Rs 25 lakh per hearing. After Agarwal’s raising the issue of very high fee, the Chief Minister directed the government to pay him at the rate of Rs 10 lakh per hearing. The orders by the Finance Department of the state government were issued on April 6, four days before the HC orders. Earlier in February also, the state government had written to the lawyer that he should reduce his fee to Rs 17.50 lakh for every hearing. The meeting was chaired by Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan and attended by Advocate General Atul Nanda.

But even after that the Home Department objected to the state government paying so much fee to the lawyer concerned. Home Secretary on April 1 last mentioned that the government has fixed rates of the counsel who appear for Government of Punjab in Supreme Court as well as courts in Chandigarh.

In case of former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini vs Government of Punjab, Gopal Subramanyam has been paid a conference fee of Rs 7 lakh and Rs 15 lakh as appearance fee. Similarly in case of former DGP Mohd Mustafa vs Union India, lawyer Mukul Rohatgi was paid Rs 11 lakh per appearance, which includes one video conference also. The department said that Sumbramanyam and Rohatgi are both senior to Raval and hence he should be asked to lower his fee.

On April 1, Agarwal put up a file to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh calling the bills put up by Raval as “very high.” He also wrote that he was called by AG Nanda to his residence, and conveyed displeasure at the pending bills of Raval. He wrote that he had requested the AG that he should negotiate with Raval but he wanted the government to do so. The CM okayed the proposal a day later and the Finance Department ordered that he should be paid at Rs 10 lakh per appearance.

CM had asked AG to appear personally 

The communication by the Department of Home to the CM mentions about two observations made by Amarinder. On February 4, the CM had written that “all such cases where Harin P Raval is appearing in the Punjab and Haryana High Court at Chandigarh should be taken over by the office of Advocate General,Punjab and in case matter is sensitive, the AG should personally appear”.
He had also said that as Rs 17.50 lakh per appearance through VC is very high the Advocate General be asked to further negotiate this rate with Raval.

The communication also mentions another observation by the CM on March 5, that stated that, “CM, after consideration in the matter, has ordered that a matter of principle, we should not engage advocates from Delhi to appear at Chandigarh as we have adequate number of law officers in the AG office. However, in case an advocate from Delhi is required to be hired to defend a case in Chandigarh, the AG should give reasons as to why the case cannot be defended by this office”.

***

Corrigendum

It is clarified that Delhi-based lawyer Harin P Raval did not appear in the case CWP 17459 of 2019, titled Gurdeep Singh versus The State of Punjab & Ors as was first inferred in this news report.

Raval had appeared in Sukhjinder Singh alias Sunny versus The State of Punjab, (CRM-M 19875 of 2020), and the state had won the case as is evident from the judgment dated 04/01/2021 by the High Court. Two Special Leave Petitions filed by the petitioner Sukhjinder Singh were also dismissed on February 23, 2021 due to Raval’s defence of the state.

Raval also appeared in six transfer petitions filed in the Supreme Court by accused in the sacrilege cases and these too were dismissed in favour of the State.

Raval said that as far as his fees is concerned, it was “inquired about and my terms and conditions asked for and given to the State Authorities before my engagement… It was open to the State to engage someone else. I didn’t force myself on them. In any view, it is the Government officials concerned who probably want me out of the matter to see that the State is not effectively defended, since so far the State of Punjab has not lost any matter wherein I have continued to appear.”

He added, “No payment of fees has been forthcoming despite my continuously appearing since July, 2020.”

Raval further said, “I have saved the worst embarrassment to the then the Director, BOI, Punjab and the present DGP, as with his (DGP’s) concurrence the then DBOI Punjab wrote a letter to the Director, CBI, requesting it to further investigate the matter despite the Punjab Legislative Assembly having passed a resolution in August 2018, resolving to withdraw the cases from CBI followed by proper notifications of the State Government dated 06/09/2018 and despite the challenge thereto having failed in the High Court as apparent from the judgement dated 25/01/2019. This letter was one of the major grounds in CRM-M 19785 of 2020 to ask for once again transferring the investigations to the CBI. Fortunately on advice being given and accepted, the Home Department filed an affidavit saying that the said letter was issued without its consultation and consent and the officers were acting on their own. All of this is recorded in the judgement dated 04/01/2021 in CRMM 19785 of 2020.”

We regret any inadvertent misrepresentation of facts.

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