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Former Supreme Court advocate Fali Nariman dies at 95

Nariman, who represented various landmark cases through his career, upheld Constitutional values, freedom of speech and expression, and independence of the judiciary

Divya J Shekhar
Published: Feb 21, 2024 11:34:32 AM IST
Updated: Feb 21, 2024 05:23:53 PM IST

Former Supreme Court advocate Fali Nariman dies at 95Former Supreme court advocate Fali Nariman passed away on February 21 in Delhi. Image: Ilaksha
Former Supreme court advocate Fali Nariman died on February 21 in Delhi. He was 95.
Among the foremost experts on the Indian Constitution, Nariman, a Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan honoree and nominated member of the Rajya Sabha between 1999 and 2005, represented some of the most landmark cases in the judicial history of India.
As per a report in The Indian Express today that quotes sources close to his family, Nariman died around 1.15 am. “He was not unwell and breathed his last in his sleep,” the report says. He is survived by his son, former Supreme Court justice Rohinton Nariman.
Born in 1929, Nariman was a law graduate from the Government Law College in Bombay. He started his legal practice the year the Constitution of India was enacted in November 1949, and through the course of his career, was instrumental in reshaping Constitutional law. Throughout his life, he upheld the values of equality and secularism. “I have lived and flourished in a secular India. In the fullness of time if God wills, I would also like to die in a secular India,” he wrote in his autobiography When Memory Fades (2010).

Also read: The passing of a legal doyen: Fali Sam Nariman

More recently, in his conversation with Forbes India in October 2023, Nariman had reiterated the importance of upholding Constitutional values. “In making the Constitution, there were problems. In making the Constitution work, there are greater problems. And that is so [evident]...where people keep changing, where political subjects keep changing, where politicians keep changing, and where the world has kept changing. So, it's quite an enormous task to keep it working, and it can only be kept working with a steadfastness of purpose,” he had said. 

Among his landmark cases is the one where he represented Union Carbide. A toxic chemical leak from the company’s pesticide plant had led to a disaster in Bhopal in 1984, which killed thousands. Nariman helped the company make a deal that gave victims $450 million outside of court. In his autobiography, he reflected on the moral complexities of the legal practice that he faced through this case, and expressed his regret about taking it up.

Also read: Having To Cultivate Affection For Government Is The Antithesis Of Democracy: Fali Nariman 

Nariman’s most lasting contribution to the Indian judiciary is perhaps the three cases that established the Collegium system of appointing judges. These are the Second Judges case, 1993; the Third Judges case, 1998, and the challenge to the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) in 2015. Over time, he became a critic of the collegium system that he had championed, “because the appointment of judges is not really the task of judges. The task of judges is to decide cases, not decide who should be judges,” he told Forbes India in the October 2023 interview. “It [Collegium] doesn't work. It doesn't work as it was expected to… this was a case that I wish I had lost and not won.”
In his latest book, You Must Know Your Constitution (2023), he had stressed about how the Constitution of India needs to be taken to the masses. “Remember that it is the Constitution that has kept this country as one country and we have not broken up into what we were in the Middle Ages,” he told Forbes India.

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