Ashok Desai
Ashok Desai
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In memory of Shri Ashok Desai

Suresh N Shelat

On the sad demise of Shri Ashokbhai Desai, an eminent lawyer of our country, various columns have been written by eminent lawyers and his friends.

I am not a regular practitioner at the Supreme Court. However, I had occasion to meet and brief him, and later become a family friend of his. His love for music was reflected during the briefings. Even though the client could not afford his fees, he was ready to appear for him.

His thorough knowledge of law, fluent delivery, and cheerful temperament helped him make a mark quite early and achieve professional success.

As Advocate General for Gujarat, I had occasion to brief him on behalf of the state, to defend the Gujarat Gas (Regulation of Transmission Supply and Distribution) Act of 2001. The state had taken a stand relying on Entry 25 of the State List for enacting the legislation. The controversy between the Centre and the State was referred to in Presidential Reference No. 1 of 2001.

The late Shri Ashokbhai argued on behalf of the state. Shri Dushyant Dave and I had briefed him. However, ultimately, the Court struck down the state legislation by upholding the power of Centre to legislate on gas.

He had accepted a brief in the Gujarat High Court when the state was faced with the January 2000 earthquake, which caused heavy damage to several parts, especially the district of Kutch. He advocated the cause of victims in a Public Interest Litigation that was initiated by eminent lawyers and retired judges. I had occasion to explain our stand in the said Public Interest Litigation on behalf of the State. The attempt was to activate the state government machinery for providing immediate relief to the earthquake victims.

He appeared as Attorney General before the Gujarat High Court when litigation was initiated to restrain Shri Shankarsinh Vaghela from taking oath for the office of Chief Minister. In an appeal arising from the Gujarat High Court regarding interpretation of the repealing clause of the Gujarat Town Planning Act, I had appeared on behalf of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority. Late Shri Ashokbhai was opposing us, defending the subject matter. There are several other matters where he argued on our behalf and others in which opposed us.

What I noticed is that Shri Ashokbhai had silver tongue and a fine sense of humour. He did not have fun gossiping about people. He used his wit to make his point without hurting anyone. His advocacy was superb and fluent. He knew exactly what to say. He kept moral issues in any litigation at the forefront.

The country has lost a great human being, much less an eminent lawyer. The life of this eminent lawyer demonstrated that values are ultimate. It is this sense of values that we must follow when the times we live in are characterized by loss of values.

The author is a Senior Advocate and Former Advocate General of Gujarat.

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