“The journey was long and hard with twists and turns, but ultimately I reached the destination”


Pavani Parameswara Rao (P.P. Rao) is a Senior Advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India. Widely considered an expert of Constitutional Law, he has argued a number of landmark cases before the Supreme Court...

P.P. Rao defended the Proclamations representing the States of Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh which were then under President’s Rule. P.P. Rao conceived, developed and presented the argument based on secularism which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution and convinced the Court that all the four BJP Governments had acted in concert and violated the basic feature of secularism by mobilizing, encouraging and supporting the Kar Sevaks who demolished Babri Masjid. The Supreme Court upheld all the four Proclamations without any dissent only on this ground.

The judgement is reported as SR Bommai v Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1 = AIR 1994 SC 1918. Mr. Rao has appeared in several other leading cases involving interpretation of the Constitution. He successfully fought against the evil of capitation fees in educational institutions in J.P. Unnikrishnan's case (1993); for the privileges of Members of Parliament in P.V. Narasimha Rao's case (1998) ; for the Governor’s power to appoint a Chief Minister who is not a member of the Legislature, but enjoying majority support while her appeal against conviction was pending in B.R. Kapoor’s case (2001); for the voters’ right to information about the antecedents of contesting candidates in the PUCL case appearing for Lok Satta (2003); for Government’s power of regulation of admissions to professional courses for preventing exploitation of students by private institutions in T.M.A. Pai (2002), Islamic Academy (2003) and P.A. Inamdar (2005). Representing the National Human Rights Commission, he persuaded the Supreme Court to intervene directly in the Best Bakery case in which Fast Track Court had acquitted all the accused.

In an exclusive interview to LegalEra, P.P. Rao talks about how our judiciary is capable of leading the struggle for reforming the system and achieve quickly the goals of securing JUSTICE around three spheres social, political and economic.

Q. Tell us about your journey as a lawyer. Was law always your first career choice?

The journey was long and hard with twists and turns, but ultimately I reached the destination. I was born in a remote, backward village, Mogalicherala, in the then Nellore District and now Prakasam District. After primary education in the village, I was sent to a nearby town Kanigiri for further studies where my paternal uncle Pavani Ramakrishnaiah was a leader of the local Bar of a District Munsif's Court. My eldest brother, Sudhakara Rao, was then a rising star of the same Bar with a clean image. As I watched them closely, I noticed that they work very hard for their clients in distress, earn well, lead a comfortable life, command respect from one and all in the town, render public service and help the needy. There were only about 20 lawyers practicing in that Court. In the evening they used to meet in the club and relax, playing cards, tennis or badminton or engaging in juicy gossip. Their lifestyle was of much higher than others, as was their learning. They would fight inside the court but outside the entire legal fraternity was like a big joint family irrespective of religion or caste. Whenever there was a wedding in a lawyer's family or a festival, all the twenty families join and would help each other. I was deeply impressed by all this. I thought when I grew up I too would become a lawyer, God willing! By the time I obtained my BA degree, the financial condition of the family had deteriorated due to successive failure of crops and sisters’ marriages for which loans had to be raised. The family was unable to fund my further studies. In search of a job, I went to Chittor, where another elder brother was an Officer in the Survey Department of the then State of Andhra. I was offered an adhoc untrained graduate teacher’s job till the end of the academic year in 1954-55 in the District Board High School. As I entered the gate, I noticed the motto on the main building "Look up, Aim High". It was inspiring. I decided to move ahead in life. Another elder brother of mine was an employee of the then Hyderabad State. Appreciating my desire to do law, he suggested to me to join the LLB course in the only Evening Law College of the Osmania University at Hyderabad. I availed the opportunity and joined the two year LLB course. As I did not like to be a burden to my brother with limited means with a family to support, I started searching for a job, as I was free during the day. Employment under the State Government was ruled out as I was not a Mulki by birth or permanent residence in the Hyderabad State. I got a job in a private school where no teacher sticks for long and started teaching. After a few months, my brother got me a job in the Office of the Regional Director (Food), Government of India. I obtained the LLB degree in 1957. I could not enroll to practice law for want of financial support. I decided to join LLM degree course thinking that it would help me to become a law teacher and encourage students to become good lawyers. With LLM degree in hand I first applied in my own Law College for a Lecturer’s post with great hope. My Principal's own son-in-law and a recommendee of a highly respected senior Professor of Law of the Madras University were appointed to the two available vacancies. It was a setback. When I was looking for an opportunity outside my enlarged State of Andhra Pradesh, I saw an advertisement of the Faculty of Law of Delhi University. I applied. Lo and behold! I was selected by a committee of which Dr. Nagendra Singh who became later a Judge of the International Court of Justice was the expert member. It was a pleasant surprise. In 1961, I was offered the post of a Research Assistant to assist the Dean, Professor LR Siva Subramanian, a great human being with a vision, who made the Law Faculty the most prestigious one among all Law Schools in India. The Indian Law Institute was also his brainchild. By then I was already married and had a child. Months later, I was appointed an adhoc Lecturer to teach Constitutional Law besides another subject which rotated. The next year I was selected for a permanent Lecturer's post by a selection committee chaired by Dr. CD Deshmukh, Vice-Chancellor, in preference to all other candidates including the products of the same University some of whom had already been working as ad-hoc Lecturers. I did not expect it at all.

In 1963, late Mr. NC Chatterjee, a prominent Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, a former Judge of the Calcutta High Court and a sitting Member of Parliament (incidentally father of Mr. Somnath Chatterjee) sought my assistance during my spare time for his research in Constitutional Law. It was a golden opportunity. Unrestricted access to the Chamber of one of the foremost leaders of the Bar was sheer God’s will. I used to assist him in the preparation of cases in Constitutional Law, attend conferences alongwith instructing lawyers and also provide research support for his speeches and lectures. He appreciated all this and started treating me as his third son. The most exciting and momentous case in which I had the privilege of assisting him was the Presidential Reference in the UP Assembly Privileges case in 1964. One Keshav Singh was ordered to be taken into custody for breach of privilege of the UP State Legislative Assembly. He challenged the order through his lawyer Solomon and sought a writ of habeas corpus. A Division Bench of the High Court issued notice and granted exparte bail as the Government Counsel did not appear. Reacting sharply, the Assembly resolved to issue warrants of arrest to the Petitioner, his Counsel and the two Hon'ble Judges of the Allahabad High Court for contempt of the House. There was a direct confrontation between the Legislative and the Judicial wings of the State. Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru wisely intervened in time to defuse the crisis by causing a Reference to be made to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution of India of the questions of law involved with respect to the existence and extent of legislative privileges and the scope of Judicial Review thereof. Mr. NC Chatterjee was engaged by Mr. Justice GD Sehgal one of the two Hon’ble Judges who entertained the Writ Petition. The opinion of the Constitution Bench gave a quietus to the issue by classic exposition of Constitutional Law in this sensitive area.

In 1965, the Indo-Pak war broke out and ended after a few days, but the National Emergency proclaimed in October 1962 in the wake of the Chinese aggression continued interminably affecting civil liberties. Mr. NC Chatterjee who was the President of the Civil Liberties Union of India was agitated about the unending restrictions on basic human rights without any justification whatever. He suggested that we should jointly write a book on Emergency and Law. Devoting my entire summer vacation, I prepared the draft after laborious research covering the USA and countries of the Commonwealth. He carefully read it word by word, line by line and added some more inputs, refined the language and finalized it. To me it was a new experience. The book was published by Asia Publishing House, New York, and received impressive reviews. On the day when Mr. Chatterjee received a letter from his old class fellow in London, Lord Denning, Master of Rolls, he was over-joyed. A few days later, all of a sudden he told me, "You have taught enough. Now you join my Chamber and practice law." It was a dream come true; a sudden fulfillment of a long cherished ambition. I immediately made up my mind, come what may. Destiny carries the man!

As I was leaving the house with my letter of resignation to the Faculty, my wife was in tears. She thought I was reckless in sacrificing settled life for an uncertain future, unmindful of the responsibility to maintain her and the child. I was taking a leap in the dark. I assured her that I would join the Bar on a trial basis. If at the end of the first year I find it hard going, I will revert back to teaching law. Any University would welcome a former Lecturer of the famous Delhi Law Faculty with over six years of experience in a subject of growing importance. To allay her fears, I told her that Mr. R. Vasudev Pillai, AoR had promised to pay a lumpsum amount of Rs.5000/- in advance for my assistance during my training period under him for AoR examination and I would also get back my CPF contribution of over Rs.4000/- from the University and my brother had agreed to give a loan of Rs.5000/- and that would be more than enough for one year to run the house. I bade good bye to teaching and landed in the lap of the profession to commence a new chapter in my life. As word went round, many old friends and acquaintances started turning up with their legal problems and my own old students who by then had become Advocates practicing, started briefing me for arguments. In the very first month, the profession blessed me with an income of more than about Rs.800/- which I was getting as monthly salary and allowances from the University. My better half started feeling that everything happens for good. She gave me tremendous support by relieving me of all household chores. There was no looking back, except that I fondly remember my colleagues and adoring students in the Faculty, one of whom eventually became the Chief Justice of India and another Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court.

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