Shaurya, your journey from being a law student to Advocate on Record and Standing Counsel for the State of Uttar Pradesh is quite remarkable. How do you recall your starting years as a legal professional? Please share your insights and struggles which you came across to reach here.
Being a first generation lawyer, I knew little to nothing about the legal profession when I stepped into law school. My early internships exposed me to the hallowed corridors of the Supreme Court and that is when I was truly motivated and determined to someday have a practice of my own in the Supreme Court. My starting years as a legal professional included some of the cliched’ travails of having a low salary, extremely long working hours, and the existential dread of how I would ‘make it’ in the profession.
As luck would have it however, I was blessed with a wonderful mentor, Mr. Amit Kumar, Sr. Advocate who took me under his wings and it is under his tutelage that I gained invaluable experience as a practicing advocate. I never refused any assignment that came my way and I learnt to always be prepared in each matter, and be ready to grasp any opportunity. On certain occasions when my requests for Passovers in matters were turned down, and I was requested to argue the matter by the Bench, I found myself prepared and equipped to handle the matter. This led to initial successes and brought with it much needed optimism and motivated me to keep going. In my view, the biggest struggle for a first generation lawyer in litigation is to remain motivated, however, I overcame this challenge by remaining disciplined and focused on improving my skills. Eventually, my skill sets improved, and with it came more work and a steady flow of income.
While hard work is often the answer to most of the challenges in the profession, it is also important to give the required importance to other facets of personal life such as physical and mental health. Having a close circle of friends in the early days of the profession helped me maintain a balance between the personal and the professional aspects of life and proved instrumental in helping me navigate the more challenging days of the profession.
As the Standing Counsel for the State of Uttar Pradesh, you handle a wide range of litigations, from criminal disputes to matters related to Housing, Stamps, and Registration. What aspects of your role do you find most challenging and rewarding?
Being the standing counsel for a State as large as Uttar Pradesh is a challenging but rewarding assignment. The biggest challenge being the sheer volume and diversity of cases one has to handle. On most days, the assignment of Standing Counsel requires drafting multiple drafts, apart from having to argue several cases before different benches of the Supreme Court, therefore it is also important to keep abreast with the latest developments in the legal field. Having to prepare for a heavy docket of matters, particularly on admission hearing days, i.e. Mondays and Fridays requires a strong support system. The importance of a good team of lawyers, clerks and office staff therefore cannot be overstated. In my personal opinion, one must try and identify a good team of colleagues, juniors and support staff as early as possible and invest in creating a team as early as possible. The diversity of cases to be handled also poses quite a challenge as the preparation of criminal cases requires a different approach when compared to civil cases. In particular, Land acquisition disputes are usually voluminous and therefore require rigorous preparation.
The most rewarding aspect of the assignment is the sheer exposure that it provides before the Supreme Court. As Standing Counsel, one gets to appear and argue before almost all courts of the Supreme Court, brief Senior Advocates, all of which helps gather invaluable experience. The role of a Standing Counsel also provides an in-depth insight into the functioning of the Government. These are all extremely rewarding aspects of practice as Standing Counsel before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. To have the opportunity to handle such an assignment at a relatively young age is proving to be an extremely humbling experience.
As a Panel Counsel for the Government of Meghalaya, you were part of the team that successfully lifted the ban on coal mining. How do you approach high-profile cases, and what role does legal strategy play in influencing policy changes?
Legal Strategy is one of the most critical aspects in litigation. A good legal strategy acts as the bedrock on which the entire case is constructed, therefore considerable efforts must be spent in working out an effective strategy before proceeding with any case. The issue concerning the ban on illegal coal mining in the State of Meghalaya is one of the most unique cases I have handled till date. The issue pertained to the practice of indigenous mining techniques by the tribal residents of the State of Meghalaya which was deemed unsafe and environmentally harmful, resulting in the imposition of a complete ban by the Hon’ble National Green Tribunal in 2014. When the matter was earmarked to our team, before proceeding with the matter, we examined the historical aspects of the land tenure system in the State and its implications on the constitutional rights of the tribal residents of the State of Meghalaya. We were able to chalk out a legal strategy which indicated that the tribals are the absolute owner of the land and also the minerals extracted from the land, due to the constitutional status conferred to the State of Meghalaya as a 6th Schedule State, and also due to the land tenure system. Consequently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the contention that the both the land and minerals belong to the tribals, and therefore lifted the absolute ban on coal mining in the State, by permitting the mining to resume under the applicable legal regime of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. The said judgment is a watershed moment, particularly for the State of Meghalaya, as nowhere else in the country has the Supreme Court recognised the right of the landowner over the minerals that may be found in his land. I personally do not distinguish between ‘high profile’ cases and other cases in terms of my approach to the matter. Surely, the pressure in ‘high profile’ cases is higher as the stakes involved for the clients are usually higher. However, I try to approach the matter like any other matter since I believe that as professionals, lawyers must remain objective in their assessment of a case.
Beyond the courtroom, you contribute to legal academia and write columns for popular legal websites. What motivates you to engage in these activities, and how do they complement your personal & professional life?
My motivation for engaging in academic activities comes from my family background. My mother has been an educator for over 30 years and therefore I have always had a keen interest in academia. I still make time to write regular articles on various issues that I come across during my practice as I find that writing articles only solidifies the understanding of a particular area of law. Writing articles encourages discussion and debate on contemporary topics of law and I find that sharing of views is the best way to contribute to the development of the law.
Your academic achievements include winning Best Memorial in the Oxford Media Law Moot Court Competition. How has participating in moot court competitions shaped your advocacy skills, and what advice would you give to law students interested in mooting?
Mooting was one of the most engaging activities during law school. It cultivated several habits which I till date implement in my professional life. Mooting required extreme discipline and dedication as it required one to gain subject matter knowledge on the topic involved to effectively deal with the issues raised in the moot proposition. This often involved our team staying up several nights reading up on new areas of law and refining our understanding of these areas. So far as helping shape advocacy skills is concerned, mooting trains one to develop arguments. It requires you to put your best argument first and find simple ways of explaining relatively complicated concepts. These aspects of mooting are very helpful in shaping advocacy skills. In my view, mooting, debating and other such activities are also a good way to gain confidence in public speaking which is an important skill required by any lawyer.
Coming to the personal side, what makes you happy personally other than Law? What keeps you motivated and inspired?
Music is a great source of solace and happiness for me. In particular, I enjoy collecting vinyl records and old cassettes.
Looking ahead, Are there any specific aspirations or goals you’re aiming to achieve in the coming years?
If I were asked the same question a few years ago, I may have answered with a specific career goal in mind, but over the years if experience has taught me anything, it is that being happy, healthy and enjoying each day as it comes is the most important facet. I hope to focus on finding a good work life balance going forward.
Reflecting on your journey, what advice would you offer to law students and young legal professionals aiming to build a successful career in litigation, especially in the evolving legal landscape of India?
One must have a voracious appetite for reading as it is the only way to stay abreast of the ever evolving legal landscape. A career in litigation is more of a marathon than a sprint. Pace yourself. While there is absolutely no substitute to hard work, but it’s important to find balance between the personal and professional.
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