The sad demise of Senior Advocate of the Gujarat High Court, Vasuben Shah, on the evening of May 14, 2022, has left a void that cannot be filled.
Born in 1932, she was the first lady advocate who joined the Gujarat High Court Bar. She was enrolled as an advocate in September 1960, and joined the chamber of late NR Oza. The Gujarat High Court was set up on bifurcation of the State on May 1, 1960, when there were only six judges.
I joined the Bar in 1967 by which time, she already had a large practice. Those were the days when a large number of case before the Gujarat High Court were between the landlord and the tenant arising out of the provisions of the Bombay Rent Control Act, Transfer of Property Act and interaction of Rent Law and Transfer of Property Act.
The volumes of Gujarat Law Reports from 1960 is testament to the industry and efforts made by Vasuben before the courts and the judgments rendered by the High Court proved to be guiding light to lawyers practicing before trial courts.
The greater hardship clause appearing in Section 13(1)(g) and explanation regarding the same was of great help to the tenants to tilt the balance of cases in their favour.
She contributed much to the development of compensation arising out of tortuous acts and motor accident cases. She was served as Junior Standing Counsel to the Union of India.
In 1995, she was designated a Senior Advocate and proceeded to train several juniors during her practice. One of them is Justice Belaben Trivedi who is now a judge at the Supreme Court.
The presentation of a case by her was clear, simple and arguments convincing. She would never run away from the difficulties in dealing with cases and would make out a point which though small, may persuade the court to think otherwise.
She had decided that she would discontinue her practice and go for public service. On February 25, 1997, Vasuben founded the Sarjan Foundation, but she refrained from becoming a trustee of it. However, she joined as a trustee on October 31, 1998.
Since 1998, she left law practice and worked for the trust. She devoted her activities for the upliftment of the disadvantaged in the tribal belt of Sabarkantha and Banaskantha Districts.
Despite all the success she achieved, she was one of the most humble persons and was an epitome of simplicity. She personified grace and goodness.
She was a woman of extraordinary industry, great forcefulness of character with a burning zeal to make her life useful for her fellowmen.
“Some significant part of my money, time, thought and energy belongs to others, not just to me,” she believed.
Normally, we hear the references to a judge who retires, but here was a lady who with her determination did not enter the portal of the High Court as a lawyer, or defended or pleaded anywhere for anyone because what was important to her was public service.
What was dear to her heart was the welfare of unprivileged and the entire knowledge and industry there she had was used for well-being of the unprivileged. The greatest tribute we can pay is to emulate her, live by her ideas and carry forward her legacy.
May her soul rest in peace.
The writer is a Senior Advocate and former Advocate General of Gujarat.