Source – AIFTP Journal – August – 2003

Shri Dinesh Vyas, Senior Advocate, Bombay High Court

“Mr. Palkhivala was a greater practitioner of god – made laws. If his life is to be summed up in one sentence, the most appropriate statement is that “his life was a journey for spiritual quest” “law was the life line of this multifaceted man. Mr. Palkhivala; with his in-born brilliance, razor-sharp intellect and sheer hard work, he rose to became one of the most distinguished lawyers, of all times; he sat in boardrooms with the wealthiest of industrialists and businessmen to advice them; he dabbled in hardcore politics barring joining a political party or standing in an election; he had a short but effective stint in international diplomacy; he himself taught in colleges and supported educational endeavours; though he ran several charities founded by others, he was himself a great philanthropist in his own life-time; he was a champion of fundamental freedoms and a leading social activity; his prolific writing and speeches have moulded public opinion amongst intelligent and educated Indians to an extent that very few can emulate and for all this he remained the most quoted Indians to an extent that very few can emulate and for all this he remained this most quoted and referred to non-political Indian in the last quarter of last century”

“He was proud to be Parsi. At a function held by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet to honour him upon his appointment as an Indian Ambassador to the U. S. in 1978, he completed his speech by observing that in his next birth too he would wish and desire to be born a Parsi”

Honourable Mrs (Justice) Sujata Manohar, Member National Human Rights Commission (Former Judge, Supreme Court of India, Former Chief Justice, Bombay and Kerala High Courts.

“Nani Palkhivala, a great orator, an outstanding scholar and a humanist par excellence, became a legend in his life time. His book on Income Tax law, written when he was a struggling junior at the bar, is now a classic. With typical humility he placed the name of his legendary senior Jamshedji Kanga in the forefront as its author. I had the privilege of hearing Palkhivala in a few tax matters. His clarity, precision and at the same time, eloquent advocacy produced many remarkable arguments in court. His inspired advocacy on constitutional issues in the Supreme Court created history. He persuaded the court to accept the basic structure doctrine and rescued the constitutional values for posterity — a service one cannot afford to forget. His annual lectures on the budget ultimately came to be held on the CCI Lawns which alone could accommodate crowds that came to hear him. He could address a gathering for hours, citing complicated figures without a single note in his hand.

In his later years, he became greatly concerned about the prevailing corruption or lack of probity in public life. He wrote books expressing his anguish. In one of them he talked his countrymen who could create a great constitution, but did not know how to preserve it, who inherited great values but did not practice them. He turned to spiritual values to save country’s future.

But above all, he was a great human being —-warm, affectionate and unassuming, willing to lend a helping hand to any one who sought his help. All those who came to know him have experienced his hospitality and his generosity.

The taxation bar has indeed fortunate that it can lay claim to man like Nani Plakhivala. He was much more than a taxation lawyer. But he has undoubtedly contributed to the enrichment of the taxation bar, like a jewel in the crown which can boast of the brilliance of outstanding lawyers”

Honourable Shri Soli J. Sorabjee, Attorney General of India.

“Nani Palkivala was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He hailed from a humble Parsi middle-class working family. His ancestors were in the profession of making and fixing “palkhis” namely, palanquins, to be fitted to horse carriages of those time. Hence the surname Palkhivala, which like many Parsi surnames, is associated with a particular calling or profession.

Nani Palkivala’s schooling was in Master’s Tutorial School in Bombay. He was a brilliant student and did extremely well despite his initial handicap of stammering which he overcome by sheer willpower. After matriculation he joined St. Xavier’s College, Bombay and completed his MA in English Literature.

Palkivala applied for a Lecturer’s post at Bombay University. To his surprise and regret, a Parsee girl was appointed to the post. With admission to most other courses closed, he enrolled at Government law College, Bombay. This is one instance how destiny plays a role in one’s life. Had Palkhivala got the lecture’s post, we would have had a brilliant Professor but the world of law and public life would have been a loser. Nani was eternally grateful to the young lady Professor and treated her to a dinner for several years.

Nani had the good fortune of joining the chambers of legendary Sir Jamshedji Kanga in 1944. He had no Godfathers in the profession. His rise at the Bar was meteoric. Within a couple of years of joining the profession, he was briefed in every important matter in the High Court. He was the darling of the young members of the bar who would throng the court to listen his arguments.

Palkhivala was offered judgeship of the Supreme Court in the early sixties which he declined possibly for the same reasons which made him decline the office of the Attorney-General of India.

The Citation he received from Princerton University is worth reproducing as it epitomizes Nani’s basic qualities:

“Defender of Constitutional liberties, champion of human rights, he has courageous advanced his conviction that expediency in the name of progress, at the cost of freedom, is no progress at all, but retrogression. Lawyer teacher, author, and economic developer, he brings to us a as Ambassador of India intelligence, good humour, experience and vision for international understanding….”

He was my role model in the profession and a true and dear friend with whom I shared many wonderful times and rich and stimulating experiences. Rajagopalachari rightly said of Palkhivala “He is God’s gift to us”

Honourable Shri M. K. Chaturvedi, Vice-President (MZ)

“He was acclaimed as the top lawyer of the 20th Century and lauded for his innovative genius. His success story fired imagination of the younger generation of lawyers. He was an icon for them, a role model to be emulated. He touched the apex glory, but success never gone to his head, something that is rare with human being.

Shri Palkhivala was my ideal during my college days. I made collections of his various articles and speeches appeared in different journals and papers. I used to visit the Courts to hear Shri Palkhivala during his Calcutta visits”

Shri Iqbal M. Chagla, Senior Advocate, Bombay High Court

“Nani Palkhivala was made in a very different mould. To call him “a tax lawyer” was a miss the essence of this man. He made the world his stage and he strode upon it like some great Colossus.

It is given to few to be considered a legend in their life time : Nani was one such. Not only because he rose from the humblest beginning to became one of the greatest lawyers in the Country; not merely because he was asked, more than once, to be judge in the Supreme Court; not because he became a captain of industry; not because he was Ambassador to the United States; not for his myriad achievements and accomplishments; not even because his annual budget speech made him a household word of Bombay.

He was a legend for all of the above and most importantly, because he was so uniquely himself : a man of genius who never lost virtue of humility; a man of singular simplicity graced with unbounded warmth and kindness; a man of letters as much as of the law.

Nani was unquestionably the greatest advocate that I have had the privilege of having heard, of having appeared with and on occasion, having had the chastening experience of having appeared against.

Nani’s greatness as an advocate can be attributed to an incredibly analytical mind, a prodigious memory and a lucidity that made the most complex argument simple to the meanest intelligence. Add to this a felicity of expression that elevated that argument to something that resembled an essay in classical prose and you have Nani Palkhivala”.

Shri Y. P. Trivedi, Senior Advocate, Bombay High Court

“Shri Nani A. Palkhivala was an advocate par excellence, persuasive, to the last and though at times he would show histrionic agitation, he always had an eye to win his case. Apart from being a great Advocate with forensic eloquence, he was also a great lawyer, worked hard on facts and law, drew subtle distinctions in cases, where to an apparent mind, there may not be any difference. He was a voracious reader and had rare mastery over the English Literature. ‘work hard’ was his motto. Even while travelling with him, I had always seen him deeply engrossed with a book. May be, he took life too seriously.

Shri Palkhivala had clarity of mind with which he could put the most difficult questions in simple language. His work as a Professor in the Government Law College was evident even in court, where very often he was called a Professor. If tact is the prime requisite in Court, then Shri Palkhivala was the ultimate embodiment of that trait.”

Shri M. L. Bhhakta, Advocate and Solicitors, Mumbai

“As a Lawyer I feel that the greatest contribution Mr. Palkhivala made to the country and to us Indians is his continuous endeavors to up hold the Constitutional Law. He dominated every leading constitutional case in the Supreme Court for over two decades in the sixties and seventies. The case of Keshavaand Bharati must be considered to be his most glorious achievement in the Constitutional History of India, when he succeeded before a thirteen judge bench of the Supreme Court to up hold and protect the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. The judgment in that case has saved the citizen of the country from machination of politicians who seek to tinker with the basic tenets of our Constitution.

I was fortunate to be a part of the team of lawyers who assisted Mr. Palkhivala in the case of Keshavanad Bharati before the Supreme Court. He had taken up the case as crusade to fight for and protect the basic structure of the Constitution. I have never seen any lawyer who would expouse any cause with such dedication and commitment as Nani did in that case. The case went on before the Court for a number of weeks. On most of the days one would see Nani working on the case for almost 18 hours a day, including the time spent in court. Just to illustrate, on one occasion after the court rose for the day, he asked some of the members of the team to look up one particular point and instructed that note prepared out of research with supporting court cases should be placed out side his hotel room at whatever time it was ready. The note and supporting court authorities were placed outside the room a little after midnight. One of the members of the team was assigned a duty to see Nani at 6 a.m. every morning, when he was having his tea. When the concerned member saw Nani at 6 O’clock in the morning, he had fully considered the note and the authorities and instructed our colleagues as to which of the books and authorities he would like to use in the court on the day.

One not very well known, but in my view can rank as one of his greatest contributions as a savior of Indian democracy is what Nani achieved after his success in Keshananda Bharti’s case. The Supreme Court decision in that case was not liked by then ruling party whose attempts to make drastic amendments in the Constitution were put to an end. Therefore, the then Attorney General requested the Chief Justice of India to constitute another 13 judge Bench to review the judgement in the case of Keshavanad Baharti case. The Chief Justice Mr. A. N. Roy accepted the request and constituted another 13 judge Bench for the purpose of reconsideration of the Judgement in Keshavand Bharati case. It was obvious that this was being done deliberately with a view to reverse the earlier judgment for obvious political reasons. Palkhivala appeared before the Court seeking cancellation of the Constitution of 13 judge Bench by the Chief Justice. The advocacy and eloquence of Palkhivala was unparalleled merit in history.

After hearing the arguments of Palkhivala, the Chief justice of India found that all his colleagues on the bench were inclined to accept the arguments of Palkhivla and he had no alternative to dissolve the bench.

Justice H. R. Khanna in his memories refers to the arguments of Palkhivala by the words “the height of eloquence to which Palkhivala rose that day has seldom been equalled and has never been surpassed in the history of the supreme Court” The next day, Chief justice unceremoniously dissolved the bench— as unceremoniously as it was previously constituted and thus ended an inglorious chapter in India’s constitutional history which you won’t find mention in any book ; since there was no judgment, no order.

In the year 1965 Palkhivala was approached with the idea of formation of the Income tax Appellate Tribunal Bar Association . He not only welcomed the proposal and immediately agreed to be the President but also offered to approve the draft Rules and regulations when prepared. Mr Palkhivala was continued to be President of the ITAT Bar Association till his death and always took very active interest.

The President had conferred upon Mr. Palkhivala the national honour of Padma Vibhushan in 1998. If there is one Indian who deserves to be conferred Bharat Ratna, it is Nani Palkhivala”

Shri Jal Dastur, Chartered Accountant, Mumbai

“Strange though it may appear, Mr. Palkhivala became a lawyer more by chance than by choice. His first preference, after doing his M. A. In English Literature was to became a Professor in English. Unbelievably enough the college, to which he applied, rejected his candidature ! In retrospect, this was the best thing that could have happened for the country — and for us, its people (to borrow from the little of his priceless book let “We, the People”).

It is common knowledge that Mr. Palkhivala’s memory was Legendary. He could argue the most complicated matter, with hardly any notes in front of him. In an interview that he gave 20 years ago to the “Bombay Chartered Accountant Journal “he reveled that he had cultivated his memory, very assiduously, and had managed to acquire the power of recall. In this contest, Palkhivala recounted a story told to him by his senior and co-author, Sir Jamshedji Kanga who himself had a phenomenal memory. It seems that Mr. Bhulabhai Desai, who —apart from being a leading politician —- was an eminent lawyer, in his own right, was once taking down notes in the High Court Library. The famous British Counsel, Inverarity, considered to be one of the greatest Lawyers who have ever practiced in India, was passing by, and picking up the sheets of paper on which Bhulabhai was writing, he advised simply:

“You must always make notes in your memory and not on paper”.

Having said this he promptly tore up sheets! Palkhivala said this incident made him realise that a public speech more effective, if notes are not used. The story goes that, in the law court, he would quote the page -number, from some authority, and while the opposing Advocate was manfully struggling to locate the page Palkhivala himself would rattle off the relevant passage from his memory!

Shri H. P. Ranina, Advocate, Supreme Court of India

“Nani put great emphasis on human character, basic values, financial integrity and intellectual honesty.

He was humble enough to see every client to the door at the end of each meeting.

Nani deprecated the tendency to accumulate wealth. He believed in the principle of Trusteeship and felt that all wealth, like knowledge, has to be shared.

He ardently believed that work is worship. He used to repeat the lines of a poet “blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness”

Shri Bansi S. Mehta, Chartered Accountant, Mumbai, Former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India

“Palkhivala was not just a lawyer par excellence.; He was a supreme human being.

I therefore thought myself if I could just touch upon some of the outstanding qualities of Nani by recounting the first seven letters of the alphabet, A, B. C, D, E, F and G, even under a chosen alphabet, I can only touch upon a quality that is rarely seen in others, Let me more specific. I believe that –

— A is for analysis and assimilation;

— B is for brevity;

— C is for his civility ;

— D is for dignity and decorum;

— E is for his erudition;

— F is for his fearlessness; and

— G is for gentleness which was ever self-effecting and generality.

Shri P. N. Shah, Chartered Accountant, Former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India

“Shri Palkhivala always believed that the professional should have courage integrity and humility.

In one of the interviews given to BCA Society Shri Palkhivala expressed his tremendous faith in the future of our country in these words :

“I have no doubt that by the turn of this century, given the right type of leadership; we could make this country, not the fifteenth poorest in the world but perhaps put it among the fifteen most progressive countries. That would necessarily involve moral leadership. What this country needs, I have been saying, is not political leadership, it needs moral leadership. It needs to bring out the best of our citizens. Today our leaders bring out the worst in us. We need leaders who could bring out the best in us —– leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Maulana, Abdul Kalam, Azad, Rajaji, Jayaprakash Narayan and Acharya Kriplani who were wholly dedicated to the country and were not interested in making money or grabbing or retaining political power for themselves. Unfortunately, it must be our destiny to suffer at this period of our history. But out of suffering some good will emerge. I believe in the profound truth:- Pessimism of the intelligence Optimism of the Will.”

Shri Arun P. Sathe, Senior Advocate, Bombay High Court

“Some times in 1973, Mrs Indira Gandhi superseded three judges of the Supreme Court, viz, Justice Shelat, Justice Hegde and Justice Khanna and Justice A. N. Roy was appointed Chief Justice of India. Some of us decided to hold a public meeting to protest Mrs Indira Gandhi’s action since it was a direct attack on independence of judiciary. Being one of the conveners of the said meeting, I went to
Mr. Palkhivala and requested him to participate in the protest meeting. He readily agreed. It was a big public meeting in the Bombay, which was presided over by Justice Late M. C. Chagla and said meeting was addressed by former Chief justice of India Justice J. C. Shah late Sanat Mehta and Mr. Palkhivala. Justice Shelat was also one of the participants in the said meeting. It was a beginning of fight for democracy in the decade of 70’s. Then came the “Emergency”. On 26th of June Mrs. Gandhi declared “Emergency” and arrested many all over the country. To the astonishment of many. Mr. Palkhivala had been to Supreme Court to present Mrs. Gandhi’s case on 25th June. On 26 th afternoon, I was sitting at Hindustan Samachar’s office and Mr. Vasantrao Deshpande of the news agency suggested to me to find out from Palakhivala the happening in office of Bombay House and before I could talk to him anything, he gave me a copy of the telegram which he had sent to Shri H. R. Gokhale then law Minster of India. The contents of the telegram as I remember, as under:

“Morning measures taken by the Prime Minster are contrary to my life-long convictions and Prime Minister may be informed that I withdraw as her counsel in the election matter”

Shri R. V. Patel, Advocate, Bombay High Court

“Palkhivala’s oratory was boundless and engrossing. Any one who heard him fell in love with is oratory. Therefore if you heard him once you will never miss him hearing again. He was eminent jurist and a giant in profession. Still he was humble to the core.

I had given a brief of a small person whose assessment was to the tune of ₹ 12000/-. I felt mentally disturbed as to how it would be possible for my clients to pay fees of Mr. Palkhivala. Do you know when I expressed to him my predicament what he said in reply? He told me, Mr. Patel why are you worried about my fees. I will not charge a penny and will be prepared to pay the stamp duty which the clients paid on the writ petition. This was the man who did not look to the fees but showed compassion to a small person whose brief he took for argument. The case is reported in Diadas Parmanand Kriplani v. P. S. Talwalkar and others (1956) 7 STC 675 (Bom) (HC)”

Shri N. C. Mehta, Chartered Accountant, Mumbai, Founder President, AIFTP

“In one case there was heart-burning amongst members of the Sales Tax Practitioners’ Association about levy of penalty by the Department on an incorrect interpretation of a provision of the Bombay Sales Tax Act. Members wanted Shri Palkhivala to argue the matter before the Bombay Sales Tax Tribunal. He accepted the request and argued the case, the Tribunal accepting the contention that penalty was not leviable in the circumstances similar to those which were stated before the Tribunal. After the matter was argued, I asked Shri Palkhivala for his fees. He enquired about the stake involved. Having been informed that issue argued by him was a test case for the benefit of assesses, he did not charge any fees.

He was very particular about the language spoken and written. Once he asked me as how the word ‘advisor’ is being spelt, by us ‘adviser’ or ‘advisor’ though both were alright. And we fault to spell “Palkhivala’ instead of ‘Palkhivala’! Once after discussing a note, he phoned me to correct ‘notwithstanding’ appearing in the note to ‘even if, etc.

Shri Palkhivala was a sprit behind forming All India Federation of Tax Practitioners bringing under one umbrella all tax professionals having common objects and interest”

Shri B. C. Joshi, Advocate, Bombay High Court, Past President AIFTP

“Nani was most polite, co-operative and displayed a deep sense of understanding the views of the other side. He had right from the beginning religious bend. The Taviz case reported in 22 STC 219 (Bom) (HC) was argued by him successfully. But he did not charge fees but preferred to have a the Taviz from dealer.

He has helped me in founding the All India Federation of Tax Practitioners and the grand success of 1974 All India Conference held under the auspicious of the Chamber of Income Tax Consultants Mumbai was much more due to his active co-operation and support”

Shri Sukumar Bhattachrya, Advocate, Calcutta High Court, Past President AIFTP

“Meeting with the great jurist had normally to be arranged through some firm of solicitors, and in the case that I am going to describe here, the solicitors were M/s. Orr. Dignamm & Co. of Kolkata. The case was one concerned with the cost of loom hour by a Jute Mills Company based at Kolkata. The facts of the case were somewhat involved and note prepared by me, running to about 30 pages, had been forwarded to the jurist at Mumbai for his perusal. He accepted the Brief and a meeting was arranged at the Great Eastern Hotel Kolkata with him wherein a representative of the solicitors firm were also present.

At the meeting Sri Palkhivala looked at the Brief for the first time, and it was done in our presence. Apparently, he had not been able to read the Brief earlier, and it was in our presence that he glanced through the thirty pages long brief for the first time. I felt little nervous when I saw that he was just turning the pages, and were ready for discussion after devoting not more than five minutes ‘ time over the contents. Then the discussions began, and I immediately found that in short span of five minutes he had fully studied the matter and was able to refer to particular issues without looking at the Brief for second time. I had earlier heard of gifted people having a photographic memory, but at that meeting held in the hotel, I was amazed to discover that the jurist sitting before us was such a gifted person. I was overwhelmed ! Next day the case was heard, and in a very short while he finished his arguments, his opponent being then Advocate-General of West Bengal. The judgment was delivered at the conclusion of the hearing and came away happy that verdict was in favour of my client on whose behalf Sri Palkhivala had argued.

I met Sri Palkhivala several times at different airports waiting for his aircraft. He was never without some brief or other paper even when he was sitting at the airport. It was quite gratifying to me that on every such occasion he never failed to great me in spite of his serious and onerous job of utilising the time in hand for reading his briefs.”

Shri N. M. Ranka, Senior Advocate, Jaipur, Past President, AIFTP

“Once when I had an appearance before Mumbai Bench of Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, by chance on the same day Shri Palkhivala had also a matter to argue; but his matter was listed in the daily cause list after me, He politely requested me to permit him to argue earlier to me at number one as he had to go back to some other urgent matter. I still remember — I mentioned, ‘ Seeking permission from me is not necessary —you have every right of priority over me’ He was over whelmed and expressed thanks. When the Court commenced, he made a mention that he has sought my permission, I nodded and the members permitted him to argue in priority. This shows the quality of the legal Legend and Court etiquette and respect for brotherhood.

Palkhivala was a thorough “gentleman” with excellent behavior, appreciable conduct and disciplined life. From a tax expert he became constitutional lawyer par excellence.

I am extremely happy to learn that the Federation has made an appeal to the Government to establish a “Palkhivala Research Academy” on direct taxes in association with Federation and other professional organisations. I am thankful to dear K. Shivaram National President for special issue and remembering three legends: i.e., Late Shri R. J. Kolah, Late Shri Nani Palkhivala and late Shri S. P. Mehta.”

Release of Commemorative Postage Stamp on Shri Nani Palkhivala on 16-1-2004

Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 16-1-2004 on the occasion of release of commemorative postage stamp at Mumbai

“In those dark days, the battle for democracy was fought by many people in many different ways. Many of us in politics under the leadership of Jayapraksh Narayanan fought in prisons. But I have no doubt that one of the finest battles was fought in the court rooms and that fighter was Nani Palkhivala”

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