Who is Fali Sam Nariman? ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of lawyer community represented these landmark cases

On February 21, eminent jurist and senior advocate Fali Sam Nariman passed away at the age of 95. He stood out as a distinguished figure in Indian legal history. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1991 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2007.

While reacting to his demise, lawyer Prashant Bhushan called him “Bhishma Pitamah of the Lawyer community”.

Born in 1929, he made his mark as a constitutional lawyer and senior advocate to the Supreme Court of India. His journey in the legal field began after graduating from law. He was respected for his expertise, particularly in constitutional law and international arbitration.

Nariman’s career took a significant leap forward when he was appointed a Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court of India in 1971. Before Memory Fades is the autobiography of Fali S Nariman.

Rohinton Nariman, his son, served as a Supreme Court of India judge as well. He was the Additional Solicitor General of India in 1972-1975. He resigned after the Emergency had been declared. He remains one of the most distinguished jurists, recognized globally for his contributions.

Landmark cases

Over the years, Nariman was involved in several landmark cases that have shaped Indian law.

Nariman argued for Union Carbide in the Bhopal gas disaster case. He helped make a deal that gave $470 million to the victims outside of court. But, when he was asked if it was a mistake, he said yes.

“Yes, I think so. Because I thought this was one more case which would add a feather to my cap. I mean one is always ambitious at that age. But I discovered later – but then it’s too late, one can’t walk out of the case one has already taken up – that it wasn’t a case, it was a tragedy. And in a tragedy, who is right, who is wrong etc., all becomes marred in a great deal of justifiable emotions,” he told The Hindu.

In 2014, he represented J Jayalalitha in court. He successfully got bail for the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu after it had initially been denied.

Nariman was the lawyer for the Gujarat Government in the Narmada rehabilitation case. However, he quit after Christians had been “killed”.

“The Christians were harassed, the Bibles were burned and even Christian men and women were killed. In protest, I went to the Minister and I was told that this burning of Bibles and Christians wouldn’t happen, but it still happened and I returned the brief and a big chaos was created,” he told Bar & Bench.

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Published: 21 Feb 2024, 09:26 AM IST