Fali S Nariman: 9 notable cases of the late jurist

Context- Eminent jurist and Senior Advocate, Fali S Nariman, passed away on February 21 at the age of 95. He had a remarkable legal career spanning over 75 years, with 50 of those years spent as a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India.

His significant contributions to the law and the legal profession were evident in numerous landmark cases. His passing marks the end of an era in the Indian legal fraternity.

The Second Judges Case:

  • Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India In 1981, the Supreme Court allowed the President to refuse recommendations made by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for judicial appointments and transfers.
  • This decision was challenged in 1987 by the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA), represented by Senior Advocate Fali Nariman. He argued that the advice given through consultation with the CJI must be binding.
  • In 1993, the court agreed with Nariman’s arguments and established the Supreme Court Collegium, which has remained in place since.

2. The Third Judges Case: In re:

  • Special Reference 1 The President of India K R Narayanan sent a “reference” to the Supreme Court for clarification on the procedure for appointment of judges following the second judges case.
  • Nariman assisted the court in this case. In 1998, the court clarified that the CJI must consult other judges of the Supreme Court before making any recommendations for judicial appointments and expanded the size of the Supreme Court Collegium.

3. National Judicial Appointments Commission case:

  • Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India Nariman appeared in the latest chapter of the judge appointments dispute following the challenge to the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act, 2014 (NJAC).
  • He argued that the NJAC would impinge upon the independence of the judiciary. In 2015, the court agreed with this view and struck down the NJAC, reinstating the collegium system for judge appointments.

4. Parliament cannot curtail fundamental rights:

  • C. Golak Nath v. State of Punjab Two brothers in Punjab challenged the Constitution (Seventeenth) Amendment Act, 1964.
  • Fali Nariman represented the intervenors, arguing that Parliament’s power to amend the constitution did not include articles dealing with fundamental rights. In 1967, a majority of the eleven-judge bench agreed with this view.

5. Bhopal gas tragedy:

  • Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India (1989) In 1984, a gas leak at a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant resulted in thousands of deaths.
  • Nariman represented Union Carbide in the case for compensation to the victims. In 1989, Union Carbide agreed to pay 470 million dollars as compensation.

6. Rights of minorities to establish and administer education institutions:

  • TMA Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka Nariman argued in support of minority rights to establish and administer educational institutions.
  • The court held that linguistic and religious minorities have to be determined on a state-by-state basis and that the government can frame regulations for minority-run educational institutions, provided these regulations do not destroy the minority character of the institution.

7. Governor to act only upon the aid and advice of the council of ministers, chief minister:

  • Nabam Rebia, and Bamang Felix v. Deputy Speaker In 2016, the Supreme Court navigated a political crisis in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Nariman argued that the governor did not have the power to advance the assembly session without the aid and advice of the council of ministers and the chief minister. The court agreed and restored the Congress government.

8. Obtaining bail for former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha:

  • Jayalalithaa v. State of Tamil Nadu Former Chief Minister Jayalalitha was accused of misappropriating funds.
  • Nariman represented Jayalalitha in 2014 and convinced the court to grant bail against executing the fine and suspend the sentence passed by the Sessions judge in Bangalore.

9. Cauvery Water Dispute: State of Karnataka v State of Tamil Nadu:

  • Fali Nariman represented Karnataka in a water-sharing dispute with Tamil Nadu for over 30 years. In 2016, the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 6,000 cusecs of water from September 21 to 27.
  • However, the Karnataka legislative assembly defied the order, claiming they had no water to spare. Nariman, in response to this defiance, refused to further represent Karnataka.
  • In the final judgment on February 16, 2018, the court acknowledged Nariman’s stand and reduced Karnataka’s annual water releases to 177.25 TMC from 192 TMC.

Conclusion- Fali S Nariman, an eminent jurist and Senior Advocate, left an indelible mark on the Indian legal fraternity with his remarkable career spanning over 75 years. His significant contributions were evident in numerous landmark cases, including those related to the appointment of judges, fundamental rights, and minority rights.

His passing is a significant loss to the legal profession, but his legacy continues to inspire and guide future generations of lawyers. His life and work serve as a testament to the power of law in shaping society and upholding justice.


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