By Indu Bhan
Pages 22+234 Published by Random House India (2015)
Public perception about lawyers in the developing countries is not very positive thanks to the nature of their job. Senior or eminent lawyers defending alleged tax evaders or bank-loan defaulters or other accused become subject to a kind of disapproval among the people in general. Fabulous earning by some of them also draws the ire of many. Due to their being under the shadow of a negative perception, the long and painful struggles to become a successful lawyer go unnoticed. Moreover, there are few biographies available in South Asia to describe the lives and careers of successful lawyers. Nevertheless, the number of lawyers in this region is increasing gradually with India at the top. Against this backdrop, journalist Indu Bhan's effort to shed lights on selected reputed lawyers of India is praiseworthy.
The author briefly sketches the lives and works of seven eminent Indian lawyers in her book Legal Eagles which hit the bookstores last year. In the writer's own language: "Legal Eagles comprises crisp and engaging life-sketches of seven winners --- how they started on their personal journeys, where they are now, what they were earlier and what they have now become." (XX)
Being a journalist covering legal issues, especially in the apex court of India over a decade, Indu Bhan has earned the opportunity to meet, talk and interact with many jurists and lawyers of India at different levels. Her close observations of these people have made her enthusiastic about their lives and works. So, she decided to write the book where selecting the lawyers was a tough task. She picked seven senior lawyers who emerged in `the post-liberalisation era.' India's economic liberalisation began in 1991. There are more successful lawyers than these seven selected by Ms Bhan for her book. Nevertheless, the brief illustration of these seven 'legal eagles' is a truthful representation of India's very much qualified legal professionals as well as the country's vast and competitive corporate world.
In the book, readers can find that the eminent lawyers are talking forthrightly on different issues. A few of them have openly criticised some verdicts of the apex court which also reflects the level of democratic practice in India. As the writer notes on Harish Salve: "He disagrees with the judgement on the coal scam as well. 'I strongly feel that the coal order is wrong on many grounds. In my view, the judgement misreads the definition of a government company by confining it only to a central government undertaking.'" P-18
The writer also brings some historical facts for the readers as well as researchers. She mentions that Aryama Sundaram was one of the few lawyers who fought a medical malpractice case "at a time when there was no kind of consumer-protection law available and when even the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, as we know today, wasn't in existence. 'My client wanted compensation. I took up the case and filed the first medical malpractice suit in India against a reputed hospital for negligence,' Sundaram reminisces." P-128
She also mentions the national flag case fought by Abhishek Manu Singhvi. "Abhishek represented industrialist-politician Naveen Jindal and got him, along with over a billion other Indians, the right to fly national flag atop their houses --- something that had been earlier restricted to government buildings only." P-75
The stories of these seven lawyers are not only interesting, but also inspirational especially for the young professionals who want to shine in the complex and diverse legal arena. The writer presents the seven lawyers' lives and careers in a brief but structured style. As a result, the readers find them interesting with the ability to have glimpses of the lawyers' personal lives along with their working styles. For instance, Mukul Rohatgi, the fourteenth Attorney General of India, is 'fond of swimming' and 'prefer to give to charity and not to pundits.' On average, he donates around Rs 20 lakh a year. Or Rohinton Nariman 'does not hesitate to spend freely on books and musical equipment.' He has also never worked during the court holidays.
The writer presents a summary of an important case dealt with by each of them with the main points of their arguments. Each of the cases has profound impact on the socio-economic dynamics of India. For example, Harish Salve moved on behalf of Vodadfone International to challenge the Indian tax authorities' decision of imposing hue tax on the international company. The Supreme Court verdict goes in favour of the company.
Or, the move of Arvind P Datar on behalf of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to counter the Sahara Group, which was one of the exemplary cases in India where the apex court thumbed down Subrata Roy. The Sahara Group chief dared to ignore court order of refunding the money he illegally collected from people by issuing bonds of Sahara Real Estate and Sahara Housing. He also declined to respond to the notices served by SEBI. The capital market regulator then moved to the apex court and initiated contempt of court proceedings. The court ordered to send him to Tihar jail in 2014. Since then, he has been there. The bold verdict has strengthened the power of the capital market regulator and proved that no one is above law no matter how powerful he or she is.
Again, the 2G spectrum case was a vivid example of public interest litigation (PIL) in India. Eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan moved in the Supreme Court to challenge the legal validity of the allocation of 2G spectrum by the Congress-led UPA government. According to his own words, "PILs were to become my forte. The 2G spectrum scam, Coalgate, the fracas over the Radio tapes, coal and iron-ore mining scams --- these had all altered the government and put the corporate world in trouble. I took the onus of explaining to the court how the former telecom minister A Raja, the prime accused in the 2G spectrum scam, had allegedly committed serious irregularities in the grant of licences and had caused a huge loss to the exchequer to the tune of Rs 1.76 lakh crore, as per the national auditor's figure. I think it was due to my initiative that the apex court cancelled all 122 licences on 2 February 2012 and ordered a re-auction." P-166
The book is written in lucid language avoiding complex texts and jargons of law. It is not only a rich and pleasant gift to the readers in India and other parts of the sub-continent; it may prompt many in the other South Asian countries to delve into the lives of the professionals in their respective legal worlds. Indu Bhan's book may be considered a path-breaking one.