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Somasekhar Sundaresan provides an insight into Mr. C Achuthan, a man of many facets, former Presiding Officer of the SAT, Chairman of TRAC, lawyer, humble workoholic and friend.
In a nation that is obsessed with icons and individuals as opposed to ideas and issues, the demise of an unassuming person who quietly made major contributions to building institutions would leave a void. It is so with the demise of Mr. C. Achuthan, best known for his eight-year stint as the Presiding Officer of the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) – a role that made him synonymous with Indian securities law jurisprudence.
To use a cliché, Mr. Achuthan was an institution in his own right in the field of securities law. A consummate workaholic, his approach to law was conservative, meticulous and painstaking, but he remained open to new ideas and interpretations that would be demanded by the situation at hand, as the Presiding Officer of the SAT, a lawyer at the bar, and as chairman or member of various committees and working groups that he was a part of.
Working with him as the chair of the Takeover Regulations Advisory Committee (TRAC) provided insight into his personality. Mr. Achuthan’s strongest point was his ability to commandeer the best out of every team member with his sheer humility. I have never seen him cut anyone short, however bizarre the input being given may have seemed at that point of time. His ability to reconcile conflicting approaches to the same common ideal – of writing a new takeover law that would work well for the next several decades – ensured that every member of the TRAC could contribute his thoughts freely and fearlessly.
His was a painstaking approach. Many of us in the TRAC were vociferous in our own views about what is the common ideal, and he was able to bring all of us together and build consensus across issues and solutions. I know that he had read every single input received from the public pursuant to the request for inputs by the TRAC from the public.
We worked on multiple drafts of the regulations. He could be quite demanding in his own sweet way, making it impossible for anyone to feel over-burdened by his meticulous demands. He would want every stone turned. He made me read a book on legislative drafting written by his friend and former boss in the Law Ministry Mr. T.K. Vishwanath (now Secretary-General of Lok Sabha) so that when drafting the Takeover Regulations, we had the benefit of the insights that book had on offer.
“Humble workaholic” is one phrase that comes close to summarising Mr. Achuthan. In my interaction with him in many of his avatars – law ministry official, Presiding Officer of SAT, fellow lawyer, Chairman of TRAC and Member of Financial Sector Legislative Reform Commission – I have seen him readily skipping meals (citing stories about how the folks in the Law Ministry regularly do that), going the extra mile, meticulously and at times painfully, demanding that every stone be turned, and above all, demonstrating humility by example.
While he was perhaps sub-consciously keen to ensure that not having been a formal judge prior to his stint at the SAT should not let his judgements be pre-judged, his rather lengthy and detailed judgements recording every argument canvassed, and dealing with every argument have contributed significantly to securities jurisprudence in India. It was a delight cutting one’s teeth appearing in his court since he had the ability to make everyone feel comfortable in his court room. He was not a judge who would make the members of the bar tremble, or feel resentful about his conduct. He had a great capacity to suffer difficult lawyers of varying temperament. No one left his court room feeling that he could have received better treatment, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the proceedings.
He was fit until his last. We had traded sms messages after an FSLRC meeting just two days ago, since he could not attend it owing to his trip to Sabarimalai – an annual pilgrimage I do not remember him missing. I do remember him missing a train for a Sabarimalai trip, when was the Presiding Officer at the SAT since he had to rule on an urgent appeal filed against an order of the Securities and Exchange Board of India stopping an open offer under the Takeover Regulations until further notice. He had conducted the hearing until late evening, and signed his detailed order, but did not have enough time to make his scheduled journey. I am told his medical parameters were reported to be perfect in a test conducted before his Sabarimalai trip last week. But it seems the inexorable time to go, was upon him. Fiercely independent in his thought process, he died at the feet of the only force he seemed subservient to – his deity, Ayyappan.
Somasekhar Sundaresan is a partner at J. Sagar Associates.
Photo Courtesy: Times Content