Associates, In-House Counsels & Advocates

Sonam Taneja, Programme Manager, Food Safety and Toxins, on career in indirect tax and Food Safety laws and policies in India

Sonam Taneja graduated from ILS Law College, Pune, in 2010. She currently works with Food Safety and Toxins division at Centre for Science and Environment as programme manager. She has close to eight years of work experience. She also has expertise in Indirect Tax and has worked as senior associate at Lakshmikumaran and Sridharan.

In this interview, she talks to us about:

  • Her role and responsibilities as Programme Manager –Food Safety and Toxins at Centre for Science and Environment
  • On career in Indirect Tax
  • Importance of mooting in college

HOW WOULD YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO OUR READERS?

I am a lawyer, working in the field of food safety policy at one of India’s leading environment policy think tanks. I am passionate about laws and policies that impact the way we eat.

 

WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCED YOU TO CHOOSE LAW AS A CAREER? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ILS LAW COLLEGE FOR PURSUING LAW?

I was a science student in school. While I enjoyed the logical approach in science studies, my interests lay in reading, writing, questioning and public speaking. Apart from engineering, I had applied for English honours and law at ILS Law College. ILS has always had a very good reputation, when I got through ILS, I just went for it!

 

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIME AT LAW SCHOOL. HOW WAS YOUR APPROACH TOWARDS ACADEMICS WHILE IN COLLEGE.

ILS has an ‘intellectually stimulating’ environment. There is a strong culture of senior students helping and mentoring juniors. ILS gave us the freedom to spend our time after classes the way we liked. I chose to be a part of several co-curricular and extra-curricular activities at college.

Coming from a science background, initially, I found theory subjects challenging, but gradually caught up. I had always been an academics-oriented student and my scores did matter to me.

 

HOW IMPORTANT ARE EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES TO A LAW STUDENT.

I think extra-curricular activities are important everywhere, every time in life. It helps shape a well-rounded individual. ILS has a very good culture of dramatics, dance, music and sports. It was an amazing experience for me to be a part of some of these and closely observe the others.

 

YOU HAVE REPRESENTED YOUR COLLEGE AT PRESTIGIOUS MOOT COURT COMPETITIONS. HOW SIGNIFICANT IS MOOTING FOR LAW STUDENTS?

Participation in moot courts can add a lot to one’s confidence in terms of public speaking, thinking on your feet and working under pressure. I have applied those learnings very often in my professional life.

But then, nothing is a one-size-fits-all solution. I believe one should continue to get out of one’s comfort zone, whatever be the route. Moot courts were challenging for me and participating in them was my way of pushing myself.

 

HOW DID YOU SECURE YOUR FIRST JOB? HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK A HIGH CGPA/PERCENTAGE IS FOR RECRUITERS?

I was interning at the Delhi office of Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan in my final year and that is when I got an offer. I think marks can reflect sincerity in a candidate to recruiters, but if I was recruiting, I would keep my cut-off for marks at just average and look for a candidate with the right attitude and a learning aptitude.

 

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVISE TO READERS WHO ARE INTERESTED TO PURSUE INDIRECT TAX IN THEIR CAREER?

Indirect taxation has recently seen a makeover since the inception of Goods and Services Tax. I am not in the field right now, but for those interested, I think this would be a great time to be in the field and see a new law shaping up.

Lawyers play a very crucial role in this field but atleast in ILS, taxation was an optional subject, indirect taxation being just a part of it. If one is interested, getting the exposure during law school by way of diplomas and optional subjects is a good starting point. Another crucial step is to plan internships with good law firms practicing the subject.

 

HAVE YOU EVER FELT THE NLU AND NON- NLU DIVIDE? DO YOU THINK IT IS A CONSIDERATION FOR EMPLOYERS?

Thankfully, no. LnS is a great place to work in many ways including this one. Hard work and merit is valued there and I didn’t feel any NLU and non-NLU divide.

 

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR CURRENT POSITION AS PROGRAMME MANAGER, FOOD SAFETY AND TOXINS AT CENTRE FOR SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT. WHAT ARE YOUR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES?

I have been working in this position for over two years now and to say the least, it has been an amazing experience. I love the field of food related laws and policies. At CSE, I work on policy issues relating to organic farming and organic food in India, labelling and advertisement of packaged food, regulation of pesticides in India and pesticides’ residues in food etc. We closely analyse legal and policy developments relating to these subjects and based on our research of international best practices, we comment on new regulations and policies.

 

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OUR READERS, WHO ARE PRIMARILY COLLEGE STUDENTS?

Law is a beautiful field and it opens a lot of doors for us lawyers. It is crucial to love what you do and in order to know that, it’s a great idea to explore the professional options that being a lawyer gives you. College is a great time for that. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

Prioritising and managing time is very crucial.

 

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