PUCL Bulletin, January 2003

Palkhivala, Saviour of Our Constitution and Freedoms

-- By M.A. Rane, 12th December 2002

The PUCL has lost one of its sources of strength in the death of Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala.

Nani Palkhivala belonged to the rare class of persons whose talents and activities are multifaceted. A brilliant student, equally brilliant, courteous, and persuasive Advocate, a constitutional and tax expert, an eminent jurist, an author, a prolific writer, a powerful speaker who could hold the audience spellbound without referring to a scrap of paper even on a dry subject like the Budget due to his phenomenal memory, an Ambassador, a person concerned with democracy, human rights and liberties, and well being of the people - the list in inexhaustible - and above all an humble gentleman.

Nani's most valuable service to the people of India is his success in the Keshavanand Bhaarti case. Ingenuous, original, and convincing arguments in the case that the Parliament in exercise of its powers to amend to the Constitution, cannot mutilate it by destroying its basic features such as Fundamental Rights, democratic polity, etc. Otherwise, the Parliament can repeal the entire Constitution by passing an enactment and rest all powers in one individual or a junta. The Keshavanand Bhaarti stood between totalitarianism on the one hand and democracy, a free society, basic human freedoms and rights on the other.

During the Emergency the then Chief Justice of India A. N. Ray convened a larger Bench for reconsidering Keshavanand Bhaarti. The opening passionate and convincing speech of Palkhivala opposing the reconsideration compelled the CJI to dissolve the Bench. Justice H. R. Khanna, after he retired paid rich tributes to Palkhivala for his powerful and convincing arguments.

Nani joined J.P., V.M. Tarkunde, Chief Justice Chagla, S. M. Joshi, and several others in inaugurating a non-party organisation called Citizens for Democracy in April 1974, which was one of the people's organizations that resisted the Emergency rule. Later he joined in the formation of the PUCLDR. He formed a trust called JP Institute of Human Freedoms from out of the royalty of the last edition of his book on Income Tax and generously helped Human Rights organizations.

It will be difficult for the PUCL to fill the void left by him.

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