Sir, can you please share the story of how you initially became interested in law and what motivated you to pursue it as a career?
Funnily I come from a family of lawyers, being a fourth generation lawyer from both sides, so the “interest” in law has always been there, however, the journey to pursue the same was not so straightforward.
As a kid I always aspired to be a lawyer, however, once I completed my schooling, I decided against it and went abroad to study Business and Public Policy Management. When I came back, I joined a budget hotel as a part of their management team. Long story short, in 2008 the global recession hit and the investors in the business being non-residents wanted to liquidate their investments. That’s when I realised that I needed to have a professional degree handy as a back-up, even if I never wished to practise. I gave the entrance exam for Campus Law Centre, thankfully got through. I chose evening classes since I was working during the days, however, since that did not take up a lot of my time I started assisting in my dad’s office. Just basic stuff like making returns for individuals which led to basic preparation for representation before the appellate authorities.
The intrigue came from the dynamic nature of tax law with changes being introduced with every finance bill and the constant tussle between the department and the taxpayer whilst interpreting the same section. By the end of my 3-year course, I knew this was my calling and decided to join the profession.
With over 10 years of experience in the field of direct tax advisory and litigation, could you highlight a specific case or project that you found particularly challenging and how you successfully navigated it?
One case which comes to mind is the Honda Trading Corporation case, where I had the privilege to assist in, which was argued over a span of a few days before the Delhi Tribunal and actually led to an amendment being brought into the statute book. As a lawyer, the satisfaction one gets in such matters and the acknowledgement of the same whereby the legislature brings in amendments to overcome the judgement is something which cannot be expressed in words.
Tax law is known for its complexity. Could you explain your approach to helping high-net individuals and corporate entities in optimizing tax efficiency and managing compliance issues effectively?
Firstly, this notion of tax law being more complex than other laws is flawed. If one is honest and diligent in their subject, the complexity is of no consequence. If your basics/fundamentals are strong, nothing can stop you. This is evidenced by the fact that the greatest tax lawyers of the country do not necessarily have a tax background like the great Nani Palkhivala. Whilst I do agree that the dynamic nature of tax makes it challenging, that is precisely what also makes it interesting and exciting.
Coming back to your query, the Indian Tax Department is known to be one of the most aggressive departments world-wide, therefore, tax compliance ought to be a key consideration for any businesses. Till what is being done is within the four corners of the law, even if the position being taken is aggressive, should not deter the clients. That being said, one must be mindful of not being unrealistic under the garb of being aggressive. Hence, being primarily from a litigation background, the endeavour is to advice clients whilst keeping in mind the litigation exposures that I foresee and mitigation of the same.
You’ve represented clients before various judicial forums, including the Supreme Court of India. Can you share some insights into your strategies for building a successful track record in representing clients in high-stakes tax litigation cases?
The strategy is very basic and simple. Read – Re-read the files and Repeat!!
Be thorough on facts and the relevant legal provisions. Something which I have learnt from my mentor, Mr. Chopra over the years is that till date whenever we discuss any case, his first go is to read the relevant sections even if he has read them a thousand times. Trust me something as basic as reading the relevant provisions can sometimes lead to interpretations which you could not fathom earlier.
Secondly, ensure that all the relevant facts/documents are on record. Last but not least, court craft is extremely important in any litigation. Understanding which battle to pick and when to relent is extremely important. Harping on a point which apparently is not working, learn to let go and move on to the next one.
Your expertise spans various tax matters, including income tax, corporate tax, international tax, and transfer pricing. How do you keep up-to-date with the constantly evolving tax laws and regulations in these diverse areas?
First and foremost, read the bible (the Income Tax Act) again and again. I can’t emphasise that enough. Keeping a tab on the ever-changing landscape of tax laws is extremely hard, but I am lucky to be in a team in which our mentor ensures that we earmark time every week to discuss important judgements/circulars etc. which really helps. Plus, over time I have realised that such discussions with every member contributing with their point of view helps expand one’s opinions and understanding.
As Counsel, you’ve worked with both domestic and international clients. Can you discuss the unique challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered when advising international clients on Indian tax matters?
The client comes to you for the value-add you provide. The nationality of the client is of no consequence. The only difference, if any, which I have noticed is that in the cases of international clients, since they are not acquainted with the nature of litigation in India or Indian laws, it is important to be very transparent and clear in all communications and explain the strategy along with its rationale.
Finally, considering your successful career and diverse experiences, what advice would you like to offer to fresh law graduates who are just starting their journey in the field of law and tax advisory?
To be honest and speaking from experience, I would urge all fresh graduates to begin their career with smaller/boutique firms. The kind of learning and experience you will get there is unparalleled. Get the fundamentals clear and understand how things really work at the grass root level. This is something you will never learn in bigger firms. No matter how attractive big tier 1 firms sound, it is not recommended to begin your career there.
If your fundamentals are in place, everything will follow and fall into place. It is important to have a good mentor, as it plays an important role in your initial years. Honestly, I feel I have been extremely lucky in that department. I started my career with a boutique tax firm where my senior was known to begin his day at 4 AM. He always told me that by the time the world wakes up, half of his work was complete. So that’s one thing I held on to and till this day, I begin my day very early. Secondly, my mentor Mr. Deepak Chopra has always imbibed in us that you don’t leave your clients in the office. It is important to keep at it till you find the solution or to simply put, the value-add the client came to you for.
To sum up, if you are honest to yourself and your work, the world is your oyster.
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