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BCI should step in to investigate for-sale bar council elections, says Chennai lawyer

Chennai advocate Elizabeth Seshadri has condemned the endemic exchange of votes in Tamil Nadu bar council elections for promises of cash and called for the Bar Council of India (BCI) to intervene following a Times of India report alleging that a bar council candidate had offered Rs 19 lakh to a lawyers’ association in the state’s southern district in exchange for 800 votes.

Elections for the Tamil Nadu bar council are to be held this March. "They conducted an auction, and this advocate emerged victorious, having agreed to pay Rs 19 lakh to the association's corpus. He is now assured of all the votes in that association," an unnamed senior advocate told Times of India, with the paper adding that:

“sometimes, amount is paid to associations on per-vote basis too. Value of each vote ranges from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000, depending upon the desperation of the bidding candidates.

“A district bar has struck a deal with a regional bar leader for a canteen facility at the association premises. Work is on to provide all necessary infrastructure for a canteen, and the advocate concerned is assured of about 500 votes, sources said. ‘Ultimately, it is the members of our association who benefit. No one opposed this arrangement and the candidate' volunteered to provide us the facility,’ said an office-bearer of the association.”

Chennai advocate and Iyer & Thomas partner Elizabeth Seshadri told Legally India that such problems were common in local bar council elections: “This is such a serious issue that compromises the independence of the Bar itself - I understand this is quite a severe issue in Tamil Nadu.”

“The High Court and BCI should take note of this report and initiate an investigation into the use of money power in bar council elections,” she continued. They should particularly investigate where the monies are sourced from, and this occasion must be used to throw more light on the issue of political parties funding bar council elections. Everybody talks about such political funding.”

“If persons of calibre and integrity are to be chosen as our bar leaders, the influence of money power must be removed from the elections. Importantly, the BCI must investigate why such heavy sums are being paid for bar council posts. What’s the financial advantage the post-holder gets? Bar leaderships should be positions of eminence and not subjected to cheap politicking,” added Seshadri.

The Madras High Court has now appointed former judge KP Sivasubramaniam to oversee the elections and has banned the printing of posters, banners and festoons, according to the Times of India.

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