When I Briefed Mr. Fali Nariman

Update: 2024-02-22 10:41 GMT
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It was February 2014, when 49 day- old government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the National Capitol Territory of Delhi, had resigned with the recommendation of dissolution of the assembly and immediate conduct of the election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, but, the Central Government had gone against the above recommendation and imposed the President Rule, under Article 239AB of...

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It was February 2014, when 49 day- old government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the National Capitol Territory of Delhi, had resigned with the recommendation of dissolution of the assembly and immediate conduct of the election to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, but, the Central Government had gone against the above recommendation and imposed the President Rule, under Article 239AB of the Constitution of India. Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of AAP, had apparently not expected this and was really disturbed by this development. So, AAP decided to approach the Supreme Court of India challenging the imposition of the President Rule against the recommendation of the elected government and for direction to dissolve the assembly.

I was then working as an associate with the noted lawyer, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, who used to be then one of the prominent leaders of the AAP. He called me and shared the above decision. I was not happy with the above resignation, but I really got excited when Mr. Bhushan told me that we would be engaging Mr. Fali Nariman for this matter and since he would be arguing the writ, we would also get the writ petition settled by him. Mr. Fali Nariman was too big a name for a lawyer like me who had come from a modest background. I was, therefore, a little anxious also as to whether I would be able to assist him properly or not.

The first meeting at his residence in Hauz Khas was relatively easy for me as Mr. Bhushan had accompanied me. On reaching there, we were first welcomed by several cats. I was told these cats were permanent residents of the said house along with Mrs. and Mr. Nariman. We were taken to the first floor, where I met, for the first time, Mr. Subhash Sharma, who was Mr. Nariman's longest standing and devoted associate and who also turned out to be my savior in the first few sittings with Mr. Nariman. Besides cats, what struck me the most was the way law books were kept in his office room. There was a big round table, and the books were not only all over the said table but also on the floors, piled up here and there. My initial thought was that possibly books were being re-arranged and that's why this mess. Soon I realized, no this was how the books were kept there.

After some wait, finally Mr. Nariman entered the room with big smile on his face for Mr. Bhushan. Mr. Bhushan introduced me to him and told him that it was I who would be working on the writ petition under his guidance. He looked at me with the bigger smile which immediately eased off some of my anxiousness. Mr. Bhushan gave brief outline of the writ petition and its prayers. Mr. Nariman, kept listening to Mr. Bhushan with constant smile on his face, and his first query was, “Prashant, how could we seek a writ of mandamus for dissolution of the assembly?” We did not have any straight answer to this query since we also had some reservations. Nevertheless, Mr. Nariman said, alright we would do something. Immediately thereafter, Mr. Bhushan left, leaving me there alone with Mr. Nariman and of course, Mr. Sharma. On one hand, I was excited as I was now directly assisting a stalwart like Mr. Nariman but on the other hand, I was constantly doubting my capability to match his expectations of a briefing counsel. Mr. Nariman asked Mr. Sharma to take out some well-known judgments on Article 356 of the Constitution and started reading Articles 239 AB and 239 AA with me. I found that the above provisions were somewhat new to Mr. Nariman also as, apparently, he had not dealt with them in any of the cases earlier. However, before coming there, I had done some preparation and read all the relevant articles several times. I started giving my own interpretations of those articles. Soon three of us, Mr. Nariman, Mr. Sharma, and myself, were in deep discussions of the constitutional provisions relating to the NCT of Delhi and the President Rule. My anxiousness got replaced by the sense of pride, the moment I realized that I was in deep discussion on constitutional provisions with a jurist like Mr. Nariman in my very first meeting with him and was doing not bad as I could make out from his reactions. However, after sitting for hours, Mr. Nariman formed a prima facie view that this writ might not be maintainable and hence, we should not file. He asked me to convey his view to Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Bhushan. I immediately made him talk with Mr. Kejriwal on phone and apprised Mr. Bhushan also. Thereafter, as it was already quite late in the evening, I left for my residence in Mayur Vihar. However, by the time, I could reach my home, I got a call from Mr. Bhushan, who told me that Mr. Kejriwal was very keen to file the writ petition. I told Mr. Bhushan, if we have to file this writ, we must convince Mr. Nariman to take up this matter. Considering the political nature of the matter, I was of the view that we must have a senior who was not only a constitutional expert but also of such stature that no judge could think of him/her doing the matter for some political consideration. Mr. Bhushan immediately agreed with me, and we decided to meet Mr. Nariman next morning in the Supreme Court. We found him at his usual place, Library II of the Supreme Court. To my surprise, we did not have to persuade him much. The moment Mr. Bhushan told him that Arvind was very keen to file this writ, and this has to be done through you, he smiled and said, alright I would do. Apparently, by that time, he had also thought of some reason to go ahead with the matter.

With this, my association started with him which lasted for almost nine months. Next three days, we extensively worked on the draft and managed to prepare a good case to argue. The writ was filed on 20.02.2014 i.e. within four days of imposition of the President Rule, it was entertained by the Supreme Court of India and then, referred to the Constitution Bench also, but it was rendered infructuous and accordingly, disposed of on 11.11.2014 in view of the decision for dissolving assembly and conducting a fresh election, taken on 04.11.2014, by the then Lieutenant Governor.

I had never thought that I would get a chance to work so closely with Mr. Nariman on such a constitutional matter. In those nine months, I spent several evenings and weekends with him. Initially, all meetings with him took place on the first floor at the front of his house, then, during the daytime, it also started taking place on veranda of his house at the backside. And yes, on that veranda also law books were found to be lying on the floors everywhere and he used to be sitting surrounded by those books. The discussions started shifting from the case to politics in general. One day, when one such political discussion was going on, I was saying something and suddenly Mr. Sharma, who has always been kind to me, interrupted me to say something but Mr. Nariman immediately stopped him and told him, “Let Rohit Speak, I like him”. This was huge for me. These six words kept echoing in my ears for several days. With the news of his sudden death, my all memories of working with him on this sole case have come alive. We will miss you Sir.

Rohit Kumar Singh is an Advocate practising in the Supreme Court


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