To begin with, it has to be appreciated and applauded in the right earnest that in a latest landmark judgment in W.P.(C) No. 35073 of 2014 delivered recently on August 8, the High Court of Kerala has in a historic move directed the Indian Railways to treat identity cards issued to lawyers by respective Bar Councils as a valid identity proof to undertake a train journey/travel. The court also asked the authorities concerned in the railways to issue appropriate orders notifying the above as expeditiously as possible. The railways have done accordingly by issuing a Circular and from now onwards the Bar Council ID Card is valid proof of identity for train journey as railways issues circular following landmark Kerala High Court judgment.
To be sure, the Circular issued by Joint Director Passenger Marketing of Railway Board following the judgment states that, 'In pursuance of the judgment of the High Court of Kerala in W.P. (C) No. 35703 of 2014 the matter has been examined and it has been decided that photo identity cards with serial number issued to Advocates by Bar Councils of India may also be accepted as proof of identity of passengers for undertaking journey by train'. The Circular instructs Principal Chief Commercial Managers of all Zonal Railways to issue necessary instructions to all concerned to avoid inconvenience to passengers. It also directs the Zonal Managers to give wide publicity through all possible means to the revised instructions for the information of general public.
Be it noted, this landmark and laudable judgment by Kerala High Court begins by pointing out that, 'The petitioner, who is stated to be a practising Advocate on the Rolls of the Bar Council of Kerala, remonstratively accuses the Indian Railways of acting unfairly and discriminatorily in refusing to recognize and accept the photo identity cards issued by the Bar Council of Kerala as also that of the other States, as a valid proof of identity to undertake journey on trains in reserved seats.'
On the face of it, para 3 states explicitly that, 'The singular grievance impelled by the petitioner in this writ petition is that even though several types and categories of identity cards are accepted by the Indian Railways, the photo identity cards issued by the various Bar Councils in India are expressly excluded. This, the petitioner predicates, is unfair and arbitrary, particularly because the said identity cards are issued by the various Bar Councils acting under the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961.' Absolutely right! Who can deny or dispute it?
To put things in perspective, on August 8, the Kerala High Court through a landmark judgment of Justice Devan Ramachandran directed the Railways to accept ID cards issued by Bar Councils as valid proof as they are statutory bodies under the Advocates Act. The order was made in this case where the request to consider the lawyer identity cards were rejected by the Indian Railways stating that Bar Councils were not government bodies, and further they are available at different levels in the country (district, state, national) and hence in the absence of any uniformity in the cards issued by such bodies, the same ought not to be considered as valid and acceptable.
Needless to say, para 10 points out that, 'After Sri. C.S. Dias and Sri. Manayani made their submissions as above, I elicited the specific views of the Kerala Bar Council through their Senior Counsel Sri. Gracious Kuriakose and the learned senior counsel informs me that it is the unequivocal and firm stand of the Bar Council of Kerala that the identity cards issued by them be accepted by all Authorities, including the Indian Railways and that they are always willing to offer verification of such cards as and when it is so required by any Authority, including the Railways.'
As it turned out, while disapproving the stand of Railways, Justice Devan Ramachandran then held in para 11 that, ' Once I hear the submissions of Sri. Gracious Kuriakose, the learned senior counsel as afore, it becomes ineluctable that there cannot be any further cause or concern for the Indian Railways, in accepting the photo identity cards issued by the various Bar Councils, since the respective Councils are obligated to verify and affirm the authenticity of a card issued by them, in case its genuineness is suspected for any reason by the competent Authorities of the Indian Railways. This is more so because they are statutory bodies, operating under the ambit of the Advocates Act, thus enjoining them to ensure the validity and rectitude of the cards and documents issued by them, if it is so required by any Authority, in terms of law.' It was also held that the notion of different level of Bar Councils was incorrect, there being only one respective Bar Council for a state and a Bar Council of India at the national level. The Court therefore asked the authority concerned in the railways to issue appropriate orders notifying the above as expeditiously as possible.
It cannot be lost on us that para 12 then stipulates that, 'In the above perspective and being guided by the specific averments in para 7 of the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the Indian Railways, wherein they say that they will accept the identity card issued by the various Bar Councils if they undertake to verify its genuineness in case suspicions are raised on the authenticity of the cards, I order this writ petition and direct the competent Authority of the Indian Railways to issue appropriate proceedings/orders notifying the acceptance of the identity cards issued to Advocates by the Kerala Bar Council and all other Bar Councils in India as valid proof of identity for train journey/travel.'
Finally and most importantly, para 13 then enunciates that, 'This exercise shall be completed by the competent amongst the respondents 1, 5 and 6 as expeditiously as is possible, but not later than 2 months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment and the consequential orders shall be notified and published as per application procedure. This writ petition is thus ordered.'
All said and done, it is most heartening and refreshing to see that this landmark and laudable judgment delivered by the Kerala High Court through Justice Devan Ramachandran directing the Indian Railways to treat identity cards issued to lawyers by respective Bar Councils as a valid identity proof to undertake a train travel has now finally been implemented by the Railways by issuing the requisite Circular in this regard! This should have been there right from the start but better to be late than never! No doubt, full credit and full marks for this certainly goes to the Kerala High Court which has conveyed a loud and clear message to one and all that just like other identity cards, the identity cards issued to lawyers are also reliable identity proof and can be relied upon at any given point of time!