5 Notable cases of Late Jurist Fali S. Nariman

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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.

-Fali S. Nariman, Before Memory Fades: An Autobiography

In the early hours of February 21, 2024, Eminent Jurist and Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman passed away at 95. He was one of the finest jurists in India and was honored with the 19th Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration 2018. Nariman spent 75 years as a lawyer with the last half century as a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and was often called the ‘Bhishma Pitaamah’ of the Indian Judiciary. Throughout his legal journey, he was courageous and presented his viewpoints with clarity and candor. Fali S. Nariman argued in various cases over seven decades of his legal journey, shaping the course of India’s Constitutional jurisprudence. In this article, we will discuss 5 notable cases argued by the Late Eminent Jurist and Senior Advocate, Fali S. Nariman. 

Notable Cases

The Second Judges Case

Judgment NameSupreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association vs. Union of India 

Judgment Date: October 06, 1993

Bench: Justices S. Ratnavel Pandian, A.M. Ahmadi, Kuldip Singh, J.S. Verma, M.M. Punchhi, Yogeshwar Dayal, G.N. Ray, Dr. A.S. Anand, and S.P. Bharucha

In this case, Indian Jurist Nariman among other eminent senior counsels appeared before the Supreme Court of India and demanded reconsideration of the decision delivered in the SP Gupta case. He argued that the meaning of the expression 'after consultation with' must be determined in the constitutional context and conditions only by the true nature and object of such consultation. He said that in the context of judicial appointments, the term ‘consultation’ merely refers to ‘seeking advice’. Nariman further argued that “insofar as appointments by the President to non-elective constitutional offices are concerned, it is only in the case of appointments to the higher judiciary that provision is made for prior 'consultation' with certain constitutional functionaries including the Chief Justice of India.” The then bench hearing the matter agreed with the contentions of eminent jurist and stated that “the role of the Chief Justice of India in the matter of appointments to the Supreme Court and the High Courts and transfers of the High Court Judges and Chief Justices has primacy, with the executive having the role of merely making the appointments and transfers in accordance with the opinion of the Chief Justice of India.” According to him, all judges of the SC should be consulted for deciding the names of judges to be appointed in the future as SC Judges. In this case, the SC laid down the structure of the Collegium that would recommend the appointments of judges to the SC and High Courts.

The Third Judges Case

Judgment NameIn Re: Presidential Reference 

Judgment Date: October 28, 1998

Bench: Justices S.P. Bharucha, M.K. Mukherjee, S.B. Majmudar, Sujata V. Manohar, G.T. Nanavati, S. Saghir Ahm AD, K. Venkateswami, B.N. Kirpal, and G.B. Pattanaik

In this case, the then President of India KR Narayanan used his power under Article 143 of the Indian Constitution to send a ‘reference’ to the top Court asking to clarify the procedure for judges appointment following the second judges case. Another issue addressed in this case was “Justiciability of these matters, including the matter of fixation of the Judge-strength in the High Courts.” Indian Jurist Nariman made submissions in this case for assisting the SC. The SC clarified that the CJI should consult with other judges of the top court before making any recommendations and said, “It is desirable that the collegium should consist of the Chief Justice of India and the four senior-most puisne Judge of the Supreme Court.”

NJAC Case 

Judgment NameSupreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association & Anr. vs. Union of India 

Judgment Date: October 16, 2015

Bench: Justices Jagdish Singh Khehar, J. Chelameswar, Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph, and Adarsh Kumar Goel

Eminent Jurist Nariman played an important role in this case related to the process of appointment of judges and transfer of judges with respect to the Supreme Court and High Courts. NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission) case is also known as the Fourth Judges Case. The Senior Advocate argued against the 99th Constitutional Amendment. He submitted that “since the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, was brought into force, consequent upon the notification issued by the Central Government in the Official Gazette on 13.4.2015, the consideration of the NJAC Bill and the passing of the NJAC Act, prior to the coming into force of the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, would render it null and void.” He also argued that NJAC would affect the judiciary’s independence. Considering all the contentions, the SC struck down the NJAC Act, of 2014 and upheld the existing collegium system. In this way, Nariman played an essential role in protecting the independence of India’s higher judiciary.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Judgment NameUnion Carbide Corporation vs. Union of India

Judgment Date: February 14, 1989

Bench: Justices R.S. Pathak, E.S. Venkataramiah, Misra Rangnath, M.N. Venkatachalliah, and N.D. Ojha

In 1984, thousands of people died, injured, and displaced due to the leakage of 42 tons of toxic chemicals from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide India Limited in Bhopal. In this case, Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman appeared for the Union Carbide and offered a sum of 426 million dollars to the families of victims of the tragedy as compensation. The Company, after a settlement with the Central Government, offered a sum of 470 million dollars to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Much later, when he was asked about his decision to take the Bhopal Gas tragedy case, he said “I mean, one is always ambitious at that age. But I found later, but then it’s too late. One can’t walk out of the case one has already taken up…it was not a case; it was a tragedy.”

Cauvery Water Dispute

Judgment NameState of Karnataka by its Chief Secretary vs. State of Tamil Nadu by its Chief Secretary & Ors. 

Judgment Date: February 16, 2018

Bench: Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Amitava Roy, and Dipak Misra

For over 30 years, Nariman appeared on behalf of Karnataka in the dispute related to the sharing of water with Tamil Nadu. The top court in its 2016 order directed the government of Karnataka to release 6000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu. However, a resolution was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly illustrating that they did not have water to share and defy the order of the SC. After this, Eminent Jurist Nariman refused to argue on behalf of the Government of Karnataka. Appraising the Nariman’s stand, the bench said, he “unhesitatingly beholds the right tradition of the bar”. 

Other than these cases, Fali S. Nariman appeared in various other cases and left an imprint on Indian law with his diverse knowledge. He not only excelled in courtrooms but also contributed to legal scholarship to help future generations in the realm of law. 

1. When did Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman died?
2. What is the Autobiography of Fali S. Nariman?