Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Self-doubt is like a cancer for your soul, Positive mindset and self-love are very important factors for your career growth – “Khushboo Kataruka: Navigating Legal Waters, Chasing Northern Lights, and Advocating for the Environment”

This interview has been published by Priyanka Karwa and The SuperLawyer Team

Khushboo, it’s a pleasure to have you here, how would you introduce yourself and your multi-faceted journey to our readers?

Thank you. I’m so glad to be here. 

To begin with, I’m a full-time lawyer and a part-time homemaker.  I say this because no matter how busy I get, I can’t help but manage certain chores on my own, despite having support staff. I think it’s an innate trait in most women. Most importantly, I’m a mother and I can’t put this category in either of the boxes mentioned above. So simply put, I am a mother to an adorable three-year old. I also try to espouse some social causes for my hometown, whenever I can and plan to invest more time in it, in years to come.  

I’m a first-gen lawyer and have my own chamber also known as “Law Chambers of KKM”. We majorly practise in the High Court of Jharkhand. Albeit I have practised in district courts and various tribunals in the past and still try to appear in district courts, whenever possible. I studied law from Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar in the 2008-13 batch.

Well, my professional journey commenced in Mumbai in 2013 as a maritime lawyer with Maersk Line, one of the world’s largest shipping companies. Starting as an Associate, I swiftly progressed to a managerial role within seven months due to my team leader’s sabbatical, presenting a timely and favourable opportunity. During my tenure, I handled nationwide legal matters, affording me the chance to collaborate with and brief some of the legal stalwarts of our country.

Although I found fulfillment in my work, I decided to return to my hometown, Ranchi, in 2015 for personal reasons. Back in Ranchi, I associated with the office of the then Advocate General of Jharkhand. This experience allowed me to contribute to legal opinions for the Government of Jharkhand and gain extensive knowledge of the newly amended mining laws, particularly in response to legal precedents such as those in the Goa Foundation and Common Cause cases.

 Since the year 2017, I have been working independently with a team of young lawyers, handling land disputes, recoveries, government contracts and other commercial disputes, some family and partition suits as well, through litigation and dispute resolution. I’m also empanelled counsel for National Highways Authority of India, Central Coalfields Limited, Jharkhand State Human Rights Commission, Flipkart and have regular clientele of MSMEs and private individuals.

From maritime law in Mumbai to championing environmental causes in Jharkhand, your legal voyage is truly diverse. If you had to relate your legal career to a type of ship, what would it be, and why does it capture your professional journey?

That’s a thought-provoking question. Upon reflection, I would choose the Triple-E, an E-class container ship built on three core principles: economies of scale, energy efficiency, and environmental improvement.

In the context of my legal career, economies of scale for the vessel translate to maximizing container capacity in a single voyage. Similarly, in my legal practice, it involves a dedicated effort to maximize work for my chamber. The second principle, energy efficiency, correlates with fuel efficiency for the ship. In the legal realm, it parallels the need to efficiently utilize time and energy, maintaining a work-life balance. For litigation-focused lawyers like myself, time is akin to a finite resource, and the demanding schedule often extends beyond conventional working hours.

Spending around 7 hours in court and additional hours in chambers for case preparation, conferences, and drafting, seasoned advocates invest at least 10-12 hours daily. This demanding schedule can be particularly challenging for mothers in the legal profession, impacting their ability to spend quality time with their children and family.

The third principle of Triple-E, “environmental impact,” aligns with the commitment to environmental protection. Like Triple-E manifests for eco-friendly voyages, consistent environmental advocacy by raising pertinent issues is one of the core principles of my chambers. 

In essence, I aim to embody these three principles in my legal career: maximizing efficiency, balancing workload, and contributing to environmental protection.

Your PILs for restoring water bodies are impactful. Could you take us through the journey of this PIL, and how it feels to make a positive impact on environmental issues through legal avenues?

When I relocated to my hometown in 2015, I noticed the deteriorating condition of the water body commonly known as “Ranchi Lake” or “Bada Talab,” situated near my house. Concerned that it might soon dry up or be reduced to a sewage dump, similar to a couple of other water bodies in Ranchi, I began reaching out to authorities such as the Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) and the Urban Development Minister. Despite my efforts, these authorities did not take concrete actions. The RMC instead initiated a beautification project costing several crores, but the project lacked any mention of cleaning of the water. Ranchi Lake, constructed by a British Colonel in 1842, holds historical significance as it is situated in the heart of Ranchi city. Having grown up near this lake and cycled around its periphery as a child, its deteriorating condition had a profound impact on me. 

After numerous appeals to the authorities yielded empty promises, I decided to take the matter to court in 2020. The lake had become overrun with water hyacinths, resembling a green expanse from a distance. Filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) as a party-in-person, I brought the situation to the court’s attention. The PIL also encompassed issues related to other water bodies in Ranchi, and the court began hearing them collectively on a regular basis.

The Hon’ble Court directed the authorities to provide a detailed plan for reviving the lakes. Additionally, an immediate clearance of all the water hyacinths from the lake. An order was obtained for the installation of a Sewerage Treatment Plant (STP) for Ranchi Lake, as the drain water from nearby areas had been flowing into the lake untreated for years. Owing to the order of the court, RMC was quick enough to get into action and get clearance of all the water hyacinths within a couple of months. Now we are able to see clear lake water again. 

An interesting fact which I may like to share, which also reflects upon the mindset of people and risks that an advocate may have to be prepared for, while pursuing public interest litigation. During the hearings, encroachment issues also arose, leading individuals from various communities, who had made some constructions on the lakes’ boundaries, to speak against me. In fact, other pending encroachment matters also got attached to my name. Anonymous threats followed, especially after the Municipal Corporation published my name in notices for encroachment removal. Bringing this matter to the court’s attention, the Chief Justice of Jharkhand at the time was kind enough to provide me with security.

After 2.5 years of active monitoring, the case was finally disposed of earlier this year with directions to the authorities to complete the installation of the STP in Ranchi Lake and take continuous measures to clean and preserve the water bodies and lakes in the city. The STP work is 80% complete but not yet operational. If the RMC fails to make the STP operational by the end of this year, I am planning to file a contempt petition as they have taken enough time already.

As for my feelings on this issue, it is empowering to be able to contribute to the environment, the people, and future generations. Seeing results on paper is one thing, but witnessing the impact on the ground is another. The fight is not over, and I will continue addressing such issues, one water body at a time. Jharkhand is endowed with numerous forests, waterfalls, lakes, and ponds, and it is our duty to preserve and protect these gifts of nature.

Managing your Master of Laws alongside your responsibilities as a new mother during the COVID period is commendable. How did you balance these roles, and do you have any advice for other mothers pursuing higher education or career growth during challenging times?

It all transpired swiftly, yet it felt like the longest period of my life. The timeframe from 2020 to 2022, which I refer to as the “pandemic year,” proved to be one of the most challenging for me, akin to many others. Virtual hearings turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing me to continue working without a prolonged break, even during maternity. I had several cases of Covid in my family and like many others, even I was isolated. Owing to the fact that I was pregnant at the same time, the isolation took a toll on me. I also faced certain postnatal issues which were challenging to deal with at first, but now my health is much better.

Being a new mom and handling work and studies together, some inexplicable force guided me to handle these responsibilities simultaneously, and in hindsight, staying occupied consistently helped me cope with depression. One piece of advice I would offer to all mothers facing challenging times is to persevere and stick to your “plan de vida”. Don’t give up and trust yourself.  

You’ve been conferred the “Women and Child Rights Protection Samman” and the “Bravo Award” for your contributions. How do you feel about being recognized for your work, and what motivates you to excel in your legal career?

Being recognized definitely lifts your morale and helps you raise the bar further, for your own self. It makes you feel your own worth, especially for people who are always self-doubting. I have now come far from there and have learnt the hard way that self-doubt is like a cancer for your soul. Positive mindset and self-love are very important factors for your career growth. 

The most cogent reason that motivates me towards this pursuit is my family. They usher me to carry on, especially at times when I feel a burnout in my litigating career.   

As a legal member of the Complaint Committee for Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace at State Bank of India, Ranchi, you play a crucial role in fostering a safe work environment. How do you approach and contribute to creating awareness and preventive measures in such matters?

During our meetings, I have always harped upon understanding the basics of gender sensitisation, stereotypes and gender roles and also a need to also give due importance to the harassment faced by male employees and not just women. It is pertinent to handle the cases with utmost neutrality and not be susceptible to confirmation bias. Also, many times I have seen some employees show reluctance in actively participating in such workshops. It becomes equally important to garner their interest and make them feel comfortable. 

In addition to being an advocate, you are an avid traveler with a penchant for winter destinations. How do you manage to blend your love for travel with the demands of a legal career, and do you have a favorite travel memory you’d like to share?

Travel works like therapy for me. Every time I have my court holidays, I plan a trip, mostly with my husband. We are blessed to have each other as perfect travel companions. I also do some solo trips from time to time and just came back from one.   

A favourite memory for me would be chasing the Northern Lights for the first time in the year 2019. In Fact it was one of those years when the solar activity was not really at its peak, unlike the current year. We were not very hopeful and had a short stay in Tromsø. For 2 nights, we had no sighting at all. Zilch. It was our last night in Tromsø and my husband and I were just spending time on a catamaran tour with no real hopes of seeing the auroras. However, we got lucky and how. The auroras came dancing from all directions and graced us. In fact, this year again, we saw her properly only on our last night in Finland, despite having spent about a week, chasing lights. On our next trip, I’d definitely take my son along, to have him experience this beautiful celestial phenomenon.   

For the aspiring legal minds, especially the young advocates, what’s one piece of unconventional advice you’d offer that they might not find in a law school textbook?

If you plan to be an advocate, don’t just stick to the Supreme Court or a High Court or a couple of tribunals only in your initial few years; even if you are not a first-gen lawyer and have several briefs to handle in your well-established chamber. Appear in whatever forums you get opportunity at. Be it a Rent Controller, Revenue Board, Railway Court or even if required to go to Thana with your client for recording of statement. One should understand the functioning of the system. Such a myriad of experiences before different authorities will definitely give you an edge and take you a long way. 

Thank you. It was a pleasure interacting with Team Superlawyer. You guys are doing a great job.

Get in touch with Khushboo Kataruka–

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