LexTalk World Interviews Shariq Ahmed. Shariq, a practicing lawyer in Supreme Court started his career as Law Clerk to Chief Justice of India (CJI) after completing his Masters in Constitutional Law from NLIU, Bhopal where he was ranked 2nd in the order of merit. Later, he joined the office of an Additional Solicitor General (ASG) as an Associate and continued to work there for another couple of years. For the last 9 years or so he has been working independently in Supreme Court. While assisting CJI he worked on several landmark Constitutional Cases which are hallmark of Indian Constitutional Jurisprudence. As an Associate to ASG, he appeared for Government of India before Apex Court. As an independent counsel he has represented and argued for individual clients/ organisations/agencies/homebuyers from different parts of the country before Supreme Court. He has done various cases pertaining to Law of Bail, Land Acquisition, Criminal Appeals, PIL, Wakf & Haj, Service, Education, Indirect Tax, Customs & DRI, and other civil matters pertaining to allotment of plots etc. He has also appeared on TV channels as an expert/panelist on legal social and political issues. He is a Law Graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, one of the oldest Law Faculty in Asia.
Host: Tell us about a complex legal issue you worked on. Describe the complexity and tell us how you approached it?
Shariq: There are so many complex legal matters which we have done in the last 10-12 years, first as law clerk to the Honorable Chief Justice of India and later on as an Associate to one of the Additional Solicitor General. But I would not go that far and I would just pick one recent case on which I worked upon and that case pertains to demolition of some part of a Dargah, situated in Gorakhpur, East Uttar Pradesh. What happened that in this case when I was asked by the client to file an SLP, I came to know that there is a 1000 years old Dargah and just to enlighten you about the importance of this Dargah, I would like to tell that in the Eidgah of this Dargah, Munshi Premchand ,the great novelist of hindi literature wrote the classic story of Eidgah. What had happened was that there were some demolitions carried out by the Gorakhpur Development Authority and on 29th of December in 2020 some demolition had taken place in the premises of Dargah and Eidgah was also part of that demolition drive. The Petitioner, that is the President of the Dargah committee approached the Allahabad High Court and on the very first day the Bench had stayed further demolition and they had inquired from the Gorakhpur Development Authority as to whether it had served any notice to the Petitioner regarding any unauthorized occupation by the Petitioner and subsequently the bench fixed another date and when the matter was taken up on the next date i.e. on 10th of February 2021 ,the Petition was dismissed by the Honorable Allahabad High Court on the ground that there was a decree in favour of Dargah on 3rd of September 1963. Therefore, the Honorable Allahabad High Court on 10th of February in its judicial wisdom directed the petitioner to either approach the Civil Court for seeking an injunction or to file an execution petition for enforcement of that decree. When I was approached by my client I told him that we can file an SLP against this order of Honorable Allahabad High court. If I can take you to the background of this case- on 14thof September 2019 ,my client along with 17 other alleged unauthorized occupants had received show cause notice under UP Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1972 and my client had responded to the notice by furnishing documents to the authority issuing the notice, in that case it was Sub Divisional Magistrate. When my client inquired by seeking recourse to the Right to Information Act, he came to know that the matter has now been transferred to the City Magistrate and the proceedings are still pending before the City Magistrate.
When we filed this SLP before the Supreme Court, the matter got listed on 8th of March and when the hearing was going to commence I received an urgent WhatsApp message from my client that on the very next day that is 9th of March the Gorakhpur police has intimated to all other stakeholders that they are going to carry out the further demolition drive at the premises of the Dargah. This fact was also brought before the knowledge of the Hon’ble Court. The Bench immediately stayed the demolition and gave this direction that the further proceedings shall remain in the light of the fact that there is already a proceeding pending before the city magistrate under UP Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants Act), 1972 so that’s how the whole demolition drive got stayed. After obtaining the stay order I got so many calls from the national and international media and then I realized the historical significance of this whole Dargah.
Host: How would you rate the current legal system's drive towards encouraging access to justice? Is there tangible movement in closing the justice gap?
Shariq: Our Constitution lays down great emphasis on Justice- social, economic and political and it also prescribes Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual so justice without dignity is not possible and as per article 38 of the Constitution the Directive Principles of State Policy, the state is enjoined upon to secure a social order ameliorating all kind of social inequalities so that justice should prevail. Keeping in view all these constitutional principles incorporated in the constitution the governments whether central government or state government have taken so many measures and the central government has even enacted a law by the name of Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and the whole country celebrates 9th of November as National Legal Services day. The whole objective of the Act is to lay down great emphasis on the protection of the rights of vulnerable sections of the society and to provide opportunities to persons belonging to such sections of society in getting their grievances redressed before judicial forums. This act itself provides that there are certain categories of person who are entitled for free legal advice and free legal opinion and all kind of free legal services and some of them I remember are women irrespective of their financial status, persons belonging to scheduled castes and schedule tribes ,victims of caste violence, ethnic violence ,victims of industrial disaster and natural disaster ,persons of unsound mind or who are incapacitated because of any medical infirmity, persons those who are under a protective home under Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act ,persons who are in juvenile homes under Juvenile Justice Act and those person’s who are having psychiatric treatment under Mental Health Act are entitled for free legal aid as per the mandate of the Act of 1987. Apart from this I would also like to say that the Honorable Supreme Court has given landmark rulings on this aspect and a lot of effort has been made by the Honorable Supreme Court through various judicial pronouncements primarily being Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar , M.H. Hoskot vs State of Maharashtra and Khatri vs State of Bihar. In all these matters the Supreme Court has passed landmark rulings and it has tried to take justice to those who find it difficult to access justice.
However the problem lies somewhere else , the problem is that as we have come to know that in the budget of 2019 to 20 the total outlay for creating infrastructure in the judiciary it was somewhere around 990 crores but in the subsequent year it was reduced to 762 crores perhaps so what is happening is that we are spending, as a country, only 0.08 percent of our total budget on administration of justice and unless and until we increase that budget we can’t say we are on the right track we are on the right path. We need to think over it and all the stakeholders need to ponder upon this issue.
Host: Time is money in any profession and in legal it's most of all. How do you ensure to make the best of your time as a lawyer?
Shariq: I would tell you that time is really money in this profession and instead of telling some general things I would be very particular and I would tell you a very interesting account of a piece which I had read in my LLB in my first semester and that is from the book of Glanville Williams ,the book is titled as Learning the Law. It is mentioned in the book about how letters were exchanged by justice Felix frankfurter and a junior high school student Paul junior who was a Junior High School student from Alexandria city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Justice Felix frankfurter is a very celebrated judge of the U.S Supreme Court and when this boy of 12 years old wrote that letter in the month of may 1954 , he showed his interest in pursuing legal education and further to build a career in law. The classic response which he received from justice Felix frankfurter is considered to be iconic statement and it's considered to be a formula for success and completeness in the professional life and in the social life . I would just read the extract of that letter and it would be very enriching for each one of us. It states: “no one can be a competent lawyer unless he’s a cultivated man, if I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well read person, no less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings in the original or in easily available productions and listening to great music, stalk your mind with the deposit of much good reading and widen and deepen your feelings for experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe and forget about your future…” so these lines have always traveled with me since the last 18- 19 years and I try to follow whatever advice this is Felix frankfurter gave to that lawyer student and I try to divide my time in that way.
Host: How is your experience as Law Clerk cum Research Assistant to Hon'ble Chief Justice of India and as an Associate to Additional Solicitor General?
Shariq: I was pursuing my LLM from National Law Institute University ,Bhopal and when I was in the final days of my academic curriculum just 3 -4 days before I got this intimation from Supreme Court registry that I have been shortlisted for an interview with the Committee of Judges for assignment as a law clerk cum research assistant. Within a couple of days I had my LLM dissertation viva also , it was very perplexing for me and I was caught unaware if I can say so… I was in double minds whether I should go and participate in the interview or I should focus on my viva for my LLM dissertation.
Somehow I mustered enough courage and took the decision of giving the interview. I came to Delhi and I just gave the interview which was taken by two of the then senior judges of Honorable Supreme Court. I got selected and I was placed in the office of Honorable Chief Justice of India.
It was really an exhilarating experience for a young man like me to work in the highest judicial office. I got his affection. I got his support and I got the opportunity to work on some of the landmark cases of the country. It was really a moment of joy whatever I had envisaged as a student of law, whatever I had dreamt of as a student of law I got those opportunities while working as law clerk to the Honorable Chief Justice of India. Later on, when my assignment got completed I joined as an associate in the office of an additional solicitor general in the Supreme Court ,here again it was a little different because earlier while working with the Chief Justice of India I was working with a different set of mind as I was assisting the bench ,when I joined the office of the additional solicitor general I was assisting a lawyer appointed by the Government of India. Here again I got to work upon very important cases in which government of India was a party . I got opportunity to assist in writing opinions for various agencies and the departments of the central government , all in all I can say that I was very fortunate to work in the office of Honorable Chief justice of India and in the office of Additional Solicitor General.
Host: What are the challenges being faced by first generation lawyers in the profession?
Shariq: Their are obstacles in every profession and as a first generation lawyer ,yes I admit that there are obstacles and there are challenges but see I was very clear in my mind when I joined LLB , that I am going to be a lawyer and there was no confusion in my mind. I participated in 4 and 5 moot court competitions. I won some of them, I got prizes for my law faculty. I just designed all my activities in such a way that would benefit me later when I would work as a lawyer in either High Court or Supreme Court. When I joined the profession I realized that I was on the right track and God has been very kind to me I would say that man proposes and God disposes. Yes there are imbalances in this profession for a first generation lawyer . My counterpart colleagues may have very good and attractive and lucrative beliefs to argue I may not get those opportunities because of me being first generation lawyer but I don’t regret such things.I just try to convince myself that opportunities would come to me not today ,it would come next day ,it would come again if I fail in any of the opportunities I realize that I have to give my hundred percent and one line I would tell for your viewers which I read somewhere that “commitment and hard work are good substitutes of merit and experience” so I believe in that and I try to focus on my work I try to just eject all those negative thought which come in my mind and try to address those issues, remain very much disciplined and thoroughly professional so that such obstacles do not come in my way. Yes, first generation lawyer definitely requires little bit of extra effort ,you have to be much more disciplined but that’s the part of the profession and that’s true of any other profession , son of a politician ,a son of a cricketer may get some opportunities but at the end of the day you have to demonstrate your capabilities and abilities if you don’t come up to expectation of the people or your clients then you are not going to continue in the profession. So all in all I would say that one has to give some extra amount of time, one has to put in that little bit of extra effort and then things would come as you plan and as you execute.
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