Nanabhoy Palkhivala

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Nanaboy Palkhivala
Palkhivala on a 2004 stamp of India
Palkhivala on a 2004 stamp of India
Born(1920-01-16)16 January 1920
Bombay, India
Died11 December 2002(2002-12-11) (aged 82)
Mumbai, India
Occupationjurist, economist
Period20th century

Nanaboy "Nani" Ardeshir Palkhivala (16 January 1920 – 11 December 2002) was an Indian jurist and economist.[1]

Early years[edit]

Nani Palkhivala was born in 1920 in Bombay to blue collar, middle-class Parsi parents. His family name derives from the profession of his forefathers (a common practice among Parsis), who had been manufacturers of palanquins ("palkhis").

He was educated at Masters Tutorial High School, and later at St. Xavier's College, both in Bombay. He was a dedicated scholar and excelled even though he was hampered by a bad stammer. At college, he earned a master's degree in English literature and thus,overcame his speech impediment.

Upon graduating, Palkhivala applied for a position as lecturer at Bombay University, but was not awarded the post. Soon found himself trying to obtain admission to institutions of higher learning to further his academic career. It being late in the term, most courses were closed, and he enrolled at Government Law College, Bombay, where he discovered that he had a gift for unravelling the intricacies of jurisprudence. He was an excellent barrister at his time.

Entry to the bar[edit]

Nani Palkhivala was called to the bar in 1946 and served in the chambers of the legendary Sir Jamshedji Behramji Kanga in Bombay. He quickly gained a reputation as an eloquent and articulate barrister, and was often the center of attention in court, where students of law and younger members of the bar association would flock to watch him. His excellent court craft and an extraordinary ability to recall barely known facts rendered him an irresistible force.

N Palkhivala initial forté was commercial and tax law. Together with Sir Jamshedji, he authored what was then and still is today an authoritative work: The Law and Practice of Income Tax. Palkhivala was 30 years old at the time of the first printing. Sir Jamshedji later admitted that the credit for this work belonged exclusively to Nani.

Palkhivala's first participation in a case of constitutional significance occurred in 1951, where he served as junior counsel in the case Nusserwanji Balsara vs. State of Bombay [(1951) Bom 210], assisting the esteemed Sir Noshirwan Engineer in challenging several provisions of the Bombay Prohibition Act. Before the year was out, Palkhivala was arguing cases himself, but his first case of constitutional importance (a challenge of the validity of land requisition acts) was lost before the Bombay High Court.

By 1954 however, barely 10 years after his admission to the bar, Palkhivala was arguing before the Supreme Court. It was in his first case before this court (concerning the interpretation of Article 29(2) and Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, which regulate the rights of religious minorities) that he articulated his (later) famous statements on the inviolate nature of the constitution.

To amend or not to amend[edit]

Palkhivala had a deep respect, indeed reverence, for both the Constitution, and for the cardinal principles he saw embedded in it: "The Constitution was meant to impart such a momentum to the living spirit of the rule of law that democracy and civil liberty may survive in India beyond our own times and in the days when our place will know us no more."

Nani saw the constitution as a legacy that had to be honored while simultaneously being flexible. Quoting Thomas Jefferson, he said, the constitution must go "hand in hand with the progress of the human mind". He was however a firm opponent of politically motivated constitutional amendments (His favourite quotation was from Joseph Story, who said: "The Constitution has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire to such a title. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keepers, the people.").

The culmination of Palkhivala's success before the Supreme Court came in the famous Kesavananda Bharati vs. The State of Kerala case [AIR 1973 S.C. 1461, (1973) 4 SCC 225]:

Parliament had added the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution through the very first constitutional amendment in 1951 as a means of immunizing certain laws against judicial review. Under the provisions of Article 31, which themselves were amended several times later, laws placed in the Ninth Schedule could not be challenged in a court of law on the ground that they violated the fundamental rights of citizens. The protective umbrella covered more than 250 laws passed by state legislatures with the aim of regulating the size of land holdings and abolishing various tenancy systems. The Ninth Schedule was created with the primary objective of preventing the judiciary – which upheld the citizens' right to property on several occasions – from derailing the Nehru government's agenda for land reform, but it outlived its original purpose.

In the now famous ruling, on 24 April 1973, a Special Bench comprising 13 Judges of the Supreme Court of India ruled by a majority of 7–6, that Article 368 of the Constitution "does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution.". In the process it overruled a decision of a Special Bench of 11 Judges, by a majority of 6–5, on 27 February 1967, that "Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the Constitution so as to take away or abridge the fundamental rights" (I.C. Golak Nath vs. The State of Punjab, AIR 1967 S.C. 1643, (1967) 2 SCJ 486) by stating that no specific provision of the Constitution was immune to amendmnent, but no amendment could violate the basic structure or inner unity of the Constitution.

The court propounded what has come to be known as "the basic structure" doctrine, which rules that any part of the Constitution may be amended by following the procedure prescribed in Article 368, but no part may be so amended as to "alter the basic structure" of the Constitution.

In 1975, shortly after the imposition of the Indian Emergency, a bench of 5 judges was hastily assembled, and presided over by Chief Justice A.N. Ray to determine the degree to which amendments installed by the government of Indira Gandhi were restricted by the Basic Structure theory. On 10 and 11 November, the team of civil libertarian barristers – led by Palkhivala – continuously argued against the Union government's application for reconsideration of the Kesavananda decision. Some of the judges accepted his argument on the very first day, the others on the next; by the end of the second day, the Chief Justice was reduced to a minority of one. On the morning of 12 November, Chief Justice Ray tersely pronounced that the bench was dissolved, and the judges rose. In effect, the doctrine was applied to the 39th Amendment of 1975, which attempted, among other provisions, to pass legislative judgment over the 1971 election of Indira Gandhi.

Seven years later, in Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union of India, [(1980) 3 SCC 625], Palkhivala successfully moved the bench to declare that clause (4) of Article 368 of the Constitution which excludes judicial review of constitutional amendments was unconstitutional.

Defender of rights[edit]

Not only did Nani Palkhivala interpret the constitution as a message of intent, he also saw it as a social mandate with a moral dimension. As he later stated in the Privy Purse case Madhav Rao Jivaji Rao Scindia vs Union of India, (1971) 1 SCC 85]: "The survival of our democracy and the unity and integrity of the nation depend upon the realisation that constitutional morality is no less essential than constitutional legality. Dharma (righteousness; sense of public duty or virtue) lives in the hearts of public men; when it dies there, no Constitution, no law, no amendment, can save it."

He was a strong proponent of the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In an attempt to stifle dissenting opinion, the central government imposed import controls on newsprint in 1972. In the case before the Supreme Court [Bennett Coleman & Co. vs Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788], Palkhivala argued that newsprint was more than just a general commodity: "Newsprint does not stand on the same footing as steel. Steel will yield products of steel. Newsprint will manifest whatever is thought of by man."

In the 1970s, state legislation (education is a subject covered by the Concurrent list in the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution – i.e., both central and state governments can legislate on it) was increasingly encroaching on the rights of minority educational institutions which are protected by articles in the Indian constitution. In a landmark case [Ahmedabad St. Xavier's College Society vs. State of Gujarat, (1974) 1 SCC 717], Palkhivala argued that the extant right of a state government to administer an academic institution did not extend to a right to mal-administer. The majority of the nine-judge bench upheld his contention, significantly strengthening the rights of the minorities.

Prominent Cases[edit]

Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar in his book Nani Palkhvala: A Role Model (published by Universal/Lexis Nexis) has listed 140 prominent cases in which Nani appeared, giving the name of parties, citation, opposite counsels, the name of the judge who delivered the verdict and brief of the law points involved. Notable cases in the list are PJ Irani, Ujjam Bai, Gujarat University, Article 143 matter on immunity of state legislatures, Keshavnanda Bharti case,Birla Cotton, Bank Nationalization,Privy Purses,Harbhajan Singh Dhillon,Bennet Coleman,St Xaviers College,Indira Nehru Gandhi,Minerva Mills, Mandal case and TN Seshan matter of Chief Election Commissioner.

The economist[edit]

Although Nani Palkhivala was one of the leading interpreters of constitutional law and a most ardent defender of the civil liberties guaranteed by the constitution, his legacy also includes the aforementioned authoritative book, The Law and Practice of Income Tax, which he co-authored with his mentor Sir Jamshedji Behramji Kanga.

Although anyone who deals with the convoluted mess that is the Indian tax code will invariably regard the work as a primary reference, the tome has also secured international recognition and served as a tax law draft guide at the International Monetary Fund. The first edition was published in 1950 when Palkhivala was only 30 years old, and is still in print today (10th edition in 2014). Sir Jamshedji, who is listed first as author, gracefully acknowledged that the credit belongs to Palkhivala.

Former Attorney-General Soli J. Sorabjee, Nani's friend and colleague for many years, recalls: "His talent in expounding the subject was matched by his genius in explaining the intricacies of the Budget to thousands of his listeners. His famous Annual Budget speeches had humble beginnings in 1958 in a small hall of an old hotel called Green Hotel in Bombay. He spoke without notes and reeled off facts and figures from memory for over an hour keeping his audience in rapt attention."

Describing the Annual Budget meetings, Sorabjee goes on to say: "The audience in these meetings was drawn from industrialists, lawyers, businessmen and the common individual. Nani's speeches were fascinating for their brevity and clarity. His Budget speeches became so popular throughout India and the audience for them grew so large that bigger halls and later the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay had to be booked to keep pace with the demand of an audience of over 20,000. It was aptly said that in those days that there were two Budget speeches, one by the Finance Minister and the other by Nani Palkhivala, and Palkhivala's speech was undoubtedly the more popular and sought after."[2]

Books authored[edit]

1.Law and Practice of Income tax 2.Taxation in India 3.The Highest Taxed Nation 4.Judiciary Made to Measure 5.Our Constitution Defaced and Defiled 6.India’s Priceless Heritage 7.Essential Unity of all Religions 8.We, the people 9 We, the Nation.


Nani Palkhivala (third from right, second row) with US President Jimmy Carter during his 1978 visit to India.

Palkhivala received a great deal of recognition from academics, academic institutions and the government.

In 1963, Palkhivala was offered a seat in the Supreme Court, but declined.

In 1968, he was offered the position of Attorney-General by Govinda Menon, then the Law Minister in the Congress Government. Palkhivala recounts in his book We the Nation: "After a great deal of hesitation I agreed. When I was in Delhi I conveyed my acceptance to him, and he told me that the announcement would be made the next day. I was happy that the agonising hours of indecision were over. Sound sleep is one of the blessings I have always enjoyed. That night I went to bed and looked forward to my usual quota of deep slumber. But suddenly and inexplicably, I became wide awake at three o'clock in the morning with the clear conviction, floating like a hook through my consciousness, that my decision was erroneous and that I should reverse it before it was too late. Early in the morning I profusely apologised to the Law Minister for changing my mind. In the years immediately following, it was my privilege to argue on behalf of the citizen, under the same Congress Government and against the government, the major cases which have shaped and moulded [...] constitutional law[...]"[1][3]

Nani Palkhivala was appointed Indian Ambassador to the United States in 1977 by the Janata government (the first non-Congress Government in India) headed by Morarji Desai and served in the capacity till 1979. He received honorary doctorates from Princeton University, Rutgers University, Lawrence University, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Annamalai University, Ambedkar Law University and the University of Mumbai. The laudation from Princeton called him "... Defender of constitutional liberties, champion of human rights ...", and stated, "he has courageously 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 as Ambassador of India intelligence, good humour, experience, and vision for international understanding...."[1]

Final days[edit]

In the last years of his life, Nani Palkhivala was severely affected by what may have been Alzheimer's disease. According to Attorney-General Soli J. Sorabjee, who had known him for many years, "it was painful to see that a person so eloquent and articulate unable to speak or recognize persons except occasionally in a momentary flash."[4]

Nani was taken critically ill on 7 December 2002, and taken to Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. He died on 11 December 2002. He was 82.

Birth Centenary Celebrations[edit]

Lex Consilium Foundation is engaged in planning and organizing Nani Palkhivala Birth Centenary Celebrations .The year long celebrations commencing on 16th January 2019 will include a memorial lecture,12 Palkhivala Lectures, a book in Hindi on Nani, a quiz on constitutional law for the law students, release of a souvenir and commemorative postage stamps . The object of the celebration is specially to showcase to the youth and young professional a profile of sustained hard work, quest for perfection and excellence, flawless integrity, ethical behavior, principled corporate management and tolerance for all religions with humility and social service. The effort is to present a role model worthy of emulation. NANI PALKHIVALA BIRTH CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


The object of Nani Palkhivala Birth Centenary Celebrations is to showcase to the youth and young professionals a profile of sustained hard work, a quest for perfection & excellence, unshakable integrity, ethical behaviour, corporate management of repute and respect for all religions with humility and social service. In short, to present a role model worthy of emulation.


Although the initial work started in October 2018, the centenary year has commenced from 16th January 2019 and will continue till 15th January 2020.

Steering Committee

The concept for the commemoration and its planning was, under the aegis of Lex Consilium Foundation, a brainchild of Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar, who had authored the book ‘Nani Palkhival: A Role Model’, first released in 2004 and now in 4th edition.

A steering committee headed by Justice MN Venkatachaliah (Retd.) (Chairman) and former Governor & Rajya Sabha Member TN Chaturvedi (Working Chairman) was constituted to oversee all activities. It consists of former Judges Dipak Misra & Sujata Manohar, Senior Advocates Soli Sorabjee, Fali Nariman, Muralidhar C Bhandare, Ashok Desai, Iqbal Chagla, PH Parekh, Arvind Datar, Prof Upendra Baxi and Director IIPA, New Delhi as members. Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar is the Honorary Secretary. Various activities planned during the year are indicated below.

Publication of Book

File:Bemisal Palkhivala.jpg

The first was a book on Nani in Hindi. It is titled titled ‘Bemisal Palkhivala – Ek PrernaShrot’ authored by Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar. A 107 pages book it carries 59 pictures and is now ready in print. The first of its kind, it has been published by Chennai based Newgen Knowledge Works.

It is proposed that copy of the book be presented to the Hon’ble President. Further that it be released by the Vice president.

Quiz on Constitutional Law

The second was the Quiz on Constitutional Law. It was held on 3 February 2019 at Hotel Taj Vivanta near Khan Market, New Delhi. 54 teams of two students each drawn from leading law colleges across India participated. The quiz was in two parts. The first was an objective type written test. 100 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Negative mark for each wrong answer. In order to conduct a healthy competition between students who showed overwhelming interest in the quiz question paper chosen was fairly tough.

Written round of quiz was followed by a lecture by the Senior Advocate Dr Arun Mohan. He spoke on how best the law students can prepare for the profession while in law colleges. His speech was heard by the audience with rapt attention. Time was provided for Q & A. There were prizes for two best questions as decided by him.

After the announcement of results of the written part, six top teams were selected for the second round, a buzzer type oral test,was conducted by eminent Quiz Master Gopal Sankaranarayanan, Advocate. An interesting test, this part was deeply appreciated by the audience, too.

The valedictory function was presided by Sri Soli Sorabjee. It had Justice Dipak Misra, former CJI, as Chief Guest, Sri TN Chaturvedi as the Distinguished Guest and child rights activist Bhuwan Ribhu as Special Guest. They all shared their learning and experience with the students.

The prize winners were as under:

1. Abhishek Kansal - RGNLU, Punjab - Rs. 50,000 & a certificate. 2. Rishi Rathi - Sharda School of Law, Sharda University - Rs. 40,000 & a certificate. 3. Gaurav Singhal – Delhi University, Campus Law Centre - Rs. 30,000 & a certificate.

The winning teams were:-

1. Abhishek Kansal & Prateek Naval - RGNLU, Punjab - Rs 1,00,000, a shield and a certificate each. 2. Mohit Jakhar & Gaurav Singhal - DU, Campus Law Centre - Rs 60,000 & a certificate each. 3. Nishant Khidtta & Ajay Joshi – DU, Law Centre - II - Rs 50,000 & a certificate each.

Each participant was handed over a bag consisting of two books by Nani,India’s Priceless Heritage and Essential Unity of All Religions. Plus two more books i.e;‘The Court Room Genius’ by Senior Advocates Sri Soli Sorabjee and Sri Arvind Datar; and ‘Nani Palkhivala- A Role Model’ by the undersigned.Further,they got a separate bag with the printed material from Bachpan Bachao Andolan.Each participant was issued a certificate which itself is unique. These will be a proud possession for them. The function was covered by many media houses along with the Lok Sabha TV.

The Quiz was a huge success. It has received big coverage on social media. There has been a demand that this be made an annual event.

Palkhivala Lectures

The next schedule is a series of speeches called Palkhivala Lectures. These are proposed to be held every month. Lecture No 1 :-It is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 13th February 2019 at the ISIL Auditorium, Krishna Menon Bhavan, Opposite Supreme Court. Chief Guest is Justice Madan B Lokur (Retd.) who will speak on ‘Rule of Law’ & Role of Free citizens’. Sri Ashok Desai, Senior Advocate and Former AG, will preside.Sri Prashant Bhushan will be the Distinguished Guest. Former Governor Shri T N Chaturvedi will be the special guest.

Lecture No 2:-It is planned for Wednesday,27th March at the ISIL Auditorium. Hon’ble Justice DY Chandrachud has consented to deliver the lecture as Chief Guest and Dr AM Singhvi,Senior Advocate will preside.

The speakers for the subsequent lectures are yet to be decided. We have got requests from the IIPA, RIS, Gandhi Peace Foundation and the LexisNexis that each of them would like to sponsor a lecture. The last lecture is scheduled to be held in January 2020 where the Souvenir would also be released.

Requests have been received for similar lectures to be held at Chandigarh, Jaipur, Mumbai and Lucknow etc. At all these places, we have advised the organizers that the events should be organized locally preferably with the Hon’ble Chief Justices of High Courts as chair or as Chief Guests. It is proposed to have all the speeches compiled in the form of a book.

The contribution of Steering Committee members Sri PH Parekh, Sri Iqbal Chagla, Sri Arvind Datar and Sri Soli Sorabjee for helping us with fund support is a big help.

A souvenir will be released at the last lecture to be held in early January 2020. It will have messages, a few articles on Nani, his pictures, and some of his quotes. Articles on Nani have been received from Senior Advocates Sri Iqbal Chagla, Sri PH Parekh, Sri Janak Dwarkadas and Dr Manish Arora. A message has been sent by the Attorney General KK Venugopal. Further, Prof Upendra Baxi, and Senior Advocates Sri R Venkataramani and Arvind Datar have promised to send their pieces soon. The events on the drawing board include:

1.Quizes on IT Act for the IRS officers by the CBDT, and one for the CA trainees by the President of Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants. 2.A competition on the drafting of laws (Bills) for law teachers & others.

Commemorative Stamp

A case has been taken up with the Department of Posts, Government of India, through the Minister concerned for issue of a commemorative stamp.

Co- Sponsors & Partners

A member of institutions and corporates have come forward to be associated with the celebrations. Their partnership in some cases is event specific, while in some general. These include Confederation of Indian Bar, Indian Institute of Public Administration,RIS,Gandhi Peace Foundation, iPleaders and India Legal.Corporate sponsors include Godrej Ltd., AZB Partners, Shapoorji Pallonji LexisNexis, and the Dataduck.


  1. ^ a b c Sorabjee, Soli J. (2003) Palkhivala and The Constitution of India.
  2. ^ Pai, M.R. (2002) The Legend of Nani Palkhivala
  3. ^ Kumar, Maj Gen Nilendra (2009). Nani Palkhivala : A role model. Delhi: Universal Law Pub. Co. ISBN 9788175347854.
  4. ^ India, Nnlrj. (21 February 2010) Nani Palkhivala | Law Resource India. Retrieved on 2018-11-15.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Kewal Singh
Indian Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
K.R. Narayanan