Thursday, May 6, 2021

Soli Sorabjee, a rare human being

bji, a rare human being

“We are all in God’s departure lounge, waiting for our flight to be called,” said Soli Sorabjee in one of his articles as quoted by senior advocate Sanjay  Hegde in his tribute. Soli Sorabjee, who lived full and purposeful life, used to visit India International Centre in Delhi occasionally. He was a strong votary of human rights, international relations and he was also fond of jazz music. He belongs to the post-colonial advocates  who were known for their penchant for adversarial litigation. He received Padma Vibhushan. He was 91.

In his younger day, he was a domineering  figure in Bombay high court where the Parsi and Gujarati advocates were ruling the roost. Bombay high court was next only to the Supreme Court in importance.

Soli was born in 1930 in a rich Parsi family. He joined the chambers of the legendary Sir Jamshedji Kanga in 1953. He was a contemporary, rival and also a friend of Fali Nariman. The Soli and Fali fought legal battles in Supreme Court in 1970s that remain part of illuminating legal history of India. In the famous Kesavananda Bharati case, which is often quoted with reference to human rights, both Soli Sorabji and Nani Palkhivala appeared and produced a basic structural doctrine to be followed by the legal fraternity.

Soli Sorabjee was at his best when he defended human rights during Emergency. He became solicitor general after Morarji Desai became prime minister. He helped broadening the scope of Article 14 and Article 24 of the Constitution.   He was more known for his pro-opposition stand. He returned to government  as Advocate General when VP Singh became prime minister. Arun Jaitley, Kapil Sibbal and Santosh Hegde were additional solicitors general in his most popular team. Famous senior advocate Harish Salve was one of his juniors.

Most of his cases were regarding civil and political rights, particularly human rights. He fought for freedom of expression. His memorable contribution was in the settlement between union government and Union Carbide. He stood by the victims due his commitment for human rights. Incidentally, the Union Carbide was represented by Fali Nariman, another distinguished Bombay legal luminary.

Soli Sorabjee’s daughter Zia Mody is continuing her father’s legacy in commercial law by founding a big law firm in Mumbai. His sons also are doing well in their respective fields and his wife was the founder member of Bahai fath in India. Though he was a giant of a legal practitioner, he was friendly with the junior most advocates. You cannot find another person like him. 

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