Ravi Shankar Prasad, Senior Advocate
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Senior Advocate was the Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Law and Justice, in the previous Government at the Center led by BJP. He is now looked upon by many as a future law minister at the Center if the BJP were to come to power in the next general elections. He has been a prolific writer and his views and speeches on contemporary legal and constitutional issues, are regularly seen in the print media. A known face of the Television, he is also the spokesperson of the BJP. During his tenure as the State Minister of Law, he was the spirit behind the Bill seeking to amend the Representation of the People’s Act, in order to usher in accountability in politics. He also contributed to the ‘Offshore Area Bill’ which became an Act under his leadership paving the way for investment in offshore mining. He shares a few candid moments with our legal correspondent Rekha Kashyap on a relaxed Saturday evening.
What was the motivation for you to enter the legal profession
I wanted to be an independent person. There was a significant activist movement in Bihar during my student life. The question of joining service never arose and I wanted to have an independent and free life. Law was one of the best independent professions.
Was anybody there in your family who inspired you to enter into the legal profession
Yes, my father was a senior lawyer in the Patna High Court. But that was secondary. Primary was my desire to remain independent in life and law appeared to me the best instrument to serve the society and yet remain independent and active in the society. Any new lawyer in the profession must learn to struggle. Therefore, during my initial years I disassociated myself from all the activism and devoted fully to law, working almost 16-18 hours every day.
Since you have been appearing in many Public Interest Litigations, what do you feel is their relevance in today’s India
I see Public Interest Litigation as an instrument for strengthening of any democracy. It is a very good concept. Yes , in some way it is abused as well and you have to be particularly cautious that Public Interest Litigation does not degenerate into personal motivated interest litigation. I argued one of the most discussed case on misappropriation of public money. It was the Fodder Scam case.
“But the working method in the Supreme Court and the type of cases which come across is quite different. Howsoever brilliant a Judge may be, to get accustomed to the mode of working in the Supreme Court he would need at least six months. This is because, cases come from the length and the breadth of the country covering different areas of law viz. Civil, Criminal, Contract, Constitutional etc.”
What would you call as your most memorable case
If I recall one of the most memorable case I have ever argued it was when I began my law practise in Patna. One Mohammedien Miyan was in jail for 49 years. I got him released. He came to meet me after getting freedom after 49 years. That remains one of the biggest trophies of my life. I got him a compensation of Rs.25000 in those days. I would treat that PIL as one of the best things of my career.
Who were your ideals in legal fraternity
Well , Palkhiwala. His commitment, his integrity, his command on law is worth admiring.
How do you manage between Law and Politics.
If Indian democracy is to grow then, good people with noble intentions and commitments must come into politics. The point is that I have seen the world as a human rights activist, as a student activist, as a lawyer, as a political activist, and as a Member of Parliament and as a Minister. Today if somebody gives me 1000 page brief to read , I will go through each and every page. I have never mixed up law and politics. I have a wonderful relation with my clients, like if the elections are approaching they will leave me for a month. This profession is one of trust. If your client trusts you, it is the most important thing. I never compromise that trust. But wherever I go professionally, I never mix up publicly. I never mix up the two. I maintain that both are separate.
“First of all we Indians need to have confidence in ourselves. India’s intellectual strength is too powerful. Our human resource is too powerful to take care of any challenge in the world”.
What would you say about the young legal professionals
First of all it’s a matter of great assurance that good students are coming in the profession of law. Two decades ago people who did not get any opening anywhere used to come into this profession. That has changed a lot. This is good for the legal community.
My motto in life was “Let your work speak for you”. If you argue one good case your name will go to ten other clients.
Are we talking to the future law minister of the country in the year 2009
(Laughs) I have been a Minister of State for Law at the Centre. Advaniji and Vajpayeeji gave me that responsibility at a very young age. But whenever any office is given to me, wheather as a member of parliament or as a law minister or as an Information and Broadcasting minister I have done my best to discharge the responsibilities to the best of my ability. My motto in life is “Let your work speak for you”.
Which is the toughest case you have handled
Forest scam was the toughest. The stakes were very high. Political parties were involved. In Patna I was known as a writ lawyer. But my father left behind him a very safe practise, so lots of clients engaged me as a Senior Counsel and there I discovered my civil roots. I thoroughly enjoyed my work. Of late, I have done many matters concerning Environment. It’s a new developing branch in law. Conservation of environment is important. You have to ensure that over activist NGOs do not put hurdles or kill the development. We have to guard against that.
Do you agree that increasing incidents of corruption in the Indian Judiciary is a matter of serious concern
The number is small but a great matter of concern. People should trust the judiciary. A strong, vibrant, independent and honest judiciary is the most important pillar of democracy. I would say that impeachment has completely lost its utility. When impeachment proceedings were included in the constitution of India the founding fathers never thought that you would have rampant cases of corrupt, defiant judges in the higher judiciary. Therefore, it was a kind of selective safeguard. The vesting of power of impeachment in parliament has made the issue more complex. There must be some separate institution as remedy. It must be inhouse. There should be no interference from the Executive.
Are you satisfied with the process of appointment of High Court judges in the present scenario
That is a very sensitive issue. Judges themselves have commented that the appointing system has failed. But now it is many years since the collegium system started. There must be some internal audit by the judiciary as to what kinds of judge appointing policies have been made.
What measures do you suggest to eliminate backlog of cases at the Trial Courts, High Courts and Supreme Court of India
First of all you have to increase the number of Judges. You have to use the Advance technology of computers for various purposes. You need to do grouping of similar cases together for easy and rapid disposal. If you talk of good governance speedy expeditious justice delivery system is the most important component of good governance.
“There must be some internal audit by the judiciary as to what kind of judge appointing policies have been made.”
What are your views on the entry of foreign law firms in India
First of all we Indians need to have confidence in ourselves. India’s intellectual strength is too powerful. Our human resource is too powerful to take care of any challenge in the world. In that connection, foreign law firms will open up new opportunities. Therefore, one cannot oppose that. But reciprocally, if foreign law firms will come to India, Indians should also get space in foreign country. This must be on mutuality.
Given your busy schedule how do you relax
I love to listen to classical music.
This Interview Was Published in Lawz December 2008 Issue