New Delhi:

The Delhi High Court has expressed concern over the sudden "steep" increase in the premium of insurance policies by government companies for lawyers and said this would completely defeat the purpose of the Chief Minister's Advocates' Welfare Scheme.

The court perused a status report filed by the Delhi government, which showed that after the opening of the financial bids for the policies, the insurance companies have substantially increased the amount of premium and reneged on their earlier quotations given in November and December last year.

The court, in an order passed on Friday, noted that the premium, which the insurance companies are now demanding, has been increased by two-and-a-half times for both the group insurance and mediclaim policies.

"This court is of the opinion that this sudden increase in the premium within a matter of eight months is very steep. The Chief Minister's Advocates' Welfare Scheme would be completely defeated at this rate," Justice Prathiba M Singh said.

The court was hearing a batch of petitions, including a plea moved by the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD), seeking a grant of the mediclaim and term insurance for the lawyers registered with it.

While the rates quoted by the New India Assurance Company (NIAC) in November and December, 2019 for providing group mediclaim insurance was Rs 8,500 per policy, the revised rate is Rs 22,945.1.

Similarly, the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) had initially quoted a Rs-2,478 premium for providing group (term) life insurance for lawyers of up to 60 years of age. Now the average basic premium rate per policy is Rs 7,091.7.

Considering the fact that the quotation has increased by two-and-a-half times, the court said a meeting shall be held with a senior LIC official who is capable of taking decisions, to be nominated by LIC Managing Director Vipin Anand.

"The official should be empowered to negotiate the terms and conditions of the group insurance policy. The meeting shall take place on September 4. In the meeting, members of the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC), which was constituted by the Delhi government, along with two representatives of the Bar Council of Delhi, shall also participate," the court said.

Justice Singh said an endeavour shall be made by the LIC to find a solution to ensure that the premium of the life insurance policies is not increased to such a high level, compared to what was given in November and December, 2019.

The court also asked the NIAC chairman to appoint a senior official to hold a meeting with the TEC and representatives of the BCD on September 10 to arrive at a solution in respect of the premium payable.

The court said a copy of its order be communicated to the top officers of both the insurance companies, which shall depute senior officials, who are capable of taking a decision regarding the rates quoted, to join the proceedings on the next date of hearing on September 15.

It had earlier observed that in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, a timely issuance of insurance policies is extremely important, especially for the members of the legal fraternity.

It had directed the TEC to hold negotiations with the insurance companies for the purposes of issuing group mediclaim policies for Delhi-based lawyers under the welfare scheme.

According to the BCD's plea, moved through its chairman K C Mittal, there are 37,135 lawyers, who are registered voters in Delhi, and of them, 29,098 are on the BCD's rolls and have been verified by it.

It has said that through a cabinet decision of December 17, 2019, the Delhi government decided to provide a medical insurance of Rs five lakh and a term insurance of Rs 10 lakh to lawyers, who are residents of the national capital, under the Chief Minister's Advocates' Welfare Scheme.

The petition contended that no scheme was made available in 2019-20 and even during the COVID crisis, nothing was done.

The court was also hearing a plea moved by advocate Govind Swaroop Chaturvedi, seeking a direction to extend the benefit of the scheme to all those enrolled with the BCD, whether their names appear on the voters' list of the national capital or not.

Swaroop has said he is enrolled with the BCD, has the membership of the Delhi High Court Bar Association, practises in the courts here, but does not reside in the national capital now and claimed that the notification is discriminatory, illegal and unreasonable.

The plea also says the discrimination on the basis of names on the voters' list in Delhi is not based on any reasonableness.

The pleas have sought to quash or modify the government's March 17 notification to the extent of deleting the eligibility condition on the basis of names on the voters' list of Delhi, for extending the welfare benefits.