T.M. Andhyarujina : Servant of the Constitution

An Obituary by Arghya Sengupta, Research Director, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Views are personal.

In the last three decades, a time the Supreme Court of India has widely been seen as a Court that governs almost as often as it decides, Tehmtan Andhyarujina unfailingly held a mirror up to it. A self-professed judicial conservative, Andhyarujina argued to limit judicial power and bolster parliamentary sovereignty in several constitutional cases. This was not because he felt Parliament to be in some sense better functioning than the Court. In fact, far from it. In a lecture at the University of Oxford in 2012, he lamented about disruptions that had crippled Parliament; in the same lecture he extolled the virtues of Indian law and its courts. Instead, he believed in parliamentary sovereignty because the Constitution demanded it. And Andhyarujina was a true servant of the Constitution.

His reading of the Constitution was undoubtedly shaped by H.M. Seervai, in whose chambers Andhyarujina started out as a junior lawyer. Seervai appeared for the State in Kesavananda[1] and argued that the Court had no power to strike down an amendment to the Constitution for violating the basic structure. Andhyarujina, present in the Supreme Court for the 66 days during which Kesavananda[1] was heard, meticulously recorded Seervai’s arguments and also astutely observed courtroom proceedings—the questions posed by the Judges, their ideological inclinations, the master stratagems of Nani Palkhivala, the lead counsel for the petitioner and the murky politics that was being waged under the veneer of a civil judicial proceeding.

His book, titled The Kesavananda Bharati Case: The Untold Story of Struggle for Supremacy by Supreme Court and Parliament (2012) is a masterful work filled with personal reminiscences of those 66 days. It is a combination of rare personal insight pressed into the service of larger constitutional arguments. For example, Justice Dwivedi, one of the six dissenting Judges, Andhyarujina writes, said during the proceedings in open court that if the petitioners conceded that the fundamental right to property could be amended he would be “prepared to procure from Parliament that all other fundamental rights can be left unamended” (p. 24). Justice Dwivedi was by no means the only Judge who appeared to have a predetermined agenda (in his case, a pro-Government one) during the hearings. Justice Hegde, one of the majority Judges, gave such short shrift to Seervai’s arguments, that Seervai contemplated never appearing before the Supreme Court again (p. 23). The larger point is not lost on any reader—that while Kesavananda1 might represent the zenith of Indian constitutional law, underneath the lofty statements of law creating the basic structure of the Constitution, lay a deeply political Court locked in battle with Parliament.

For Andhyarujina, the resolution of such a battle lay in the text of the Constitution. As Advocate General of Maharashtra, he argued to save the constitutionality of several legislations passed by the State of Maharashtra by urging the Court to read provisions of law with due deference to the legislature. Notable is his defence of the Explanation to Section 2(26) of the Bombay Sales Tax Act, 1959 inserted by way of amendment in 1988. This provision excluded goods held by trademark and patent-holders from the purview of “resale” thereby not allowing the value of such goods to be deducted when sales tax is to be computed. Andhyarujina successfully argued that this provision was in pith and substance on sales tax and had no effect of freedom of trade and commerce[2]. In the Supreme Court, in Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug[3] he urged the Court to recognise passive euthanasia for persons in permanent vegetative state as legal, with certain safeguards. This too was based on his view that the right to life in Article 21 of the Constitution meant a life with dignity, something that a person in a permanent vegetative state did not possess.

But it was in the leading constitutional cases of the day that Andhyarujina shone, not necessarily because he always emerged victorious, but more importantly because he always spoke truth to power. In I.R. Coelho[4], he argued to save the constitutionality of the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution which immunised statutes from judicial review; in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Assn.[5], he argued that a concern for judicial independence could not extend to striking down a perfectly reasonable constitutional amendment only because judicial primacy in appointment of Judges was not as secure as it was in the collegium system. Educated in the finest traditions of English constitutional law, Andhyarujina believed in parliamentary sovereignty and fought till the end to protect it from what he saw as the “path of deviation” on which the Supreme Court had set itself through its activism[6]. This was not intended to berate the Court, but instead to guide it in a direction as the Constitution, in Andhyarujina’s view, demanded.

I must end on a personal note. I was privileged to know Mr Andhyarujina in the last ten years of his life. He gently advised me to reconsider returning to India from the United Kingdom as in his view, the Supreme Court was overrun by “piddly” matters; to make good his advice he examined my doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford, hoping perhaps that his advice and comments might make me remain there. However, when I did return, we spent some wonderful evenings on his Hauz Khas Enclave terrace arguing about the Constitution, sparring over the influence of the common law on the Indian legal system, and debating whether the basic structure doctrine was legitimate. True to my republican faith, I staunchly argued against it; a lawyer to the end, Mr Andhyarujina, with that familiar twinkle in his eye, respectfully demurred.

_________

[T.M. Andhyarujina, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, former Solicitor General of India, Advocate General of Maharashtra and an esteemed member of the SCC Editorial Board, died on 28-3-2017. He was 83.]

   [1]  Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225

   [2]  Federation of Associations of Maharashtra v. State of Maharashtra, 1994 SCC OnLine Bom 750

   [3]  Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 15 SCC 480

   [4]  I.R. Coelho v. State of T.N., (2007) 2 SCC 1

   [5]  Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Assn. v. Union of India, (2016) 5 SCC 1

  [6]  T.R. Andhyarujina, “The Unique Judicial Activism of the Supreme Court of India”, (2014) 130 Law Quarterly Review 53

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