Senior Advocate Prashant Singh was appointed as Advocate General for the State of Madhya Pradesh in October 2021.
A little over eight months into his tenure, the State government finds itself in a pickle over the recent Khargone controversy, in which the properties of rioters involved in communal violence were demolished following clashes on Ram Navami.
In this interview with Bar & Bench's Debayan Roy, Singh speaks on the issue, the State's policy of rewarding public prosecutors who successfully argue for the death penalty in cases, and more.
Edited excerpts follow.
Debayan Roy (DR): What prompted you to enter the legal profession?
AG Prashant Singh (AG): See, I am a first generation lawyer. In fact, I wanted to join the Indian Army by choice, but my father was more interested that I pursue law studies. Then I joined for LL.B. After completing that course, you may say by accident I am in this profession.
DR: You started your independent practice in 1996, just four years into your career. What were the reasons for doing so and what were the challenges you faced in setting up your own practice?
AG: I joined this profession on February 10, 1992 and joined the office of my senior and remained there for a period of about five years.
By then, I had started getting private briefs. Hence, I thought that it was time that I start practicing law independently. So I took the blessings of my senior and started my individual practice.
DR: There was a recent debate over social media on how first generation lawyers find it very difficult to establish themselves in the field. Your take?
AG: What I personally believe is that whatever you want to do - if you want to do any business, that business needs some investment...But our legal profession, at the initial stage, it requires investment of time. So, if an individual wants to invest time and to learn law and serve the society, then he is required to face these struggles at the very initial stage.
So the struggle period may go on for a period of four to five years or three years; it depends upon the individual. The moment a lawyer starts getting briefs from an individual, the moment he starts getting recognised by society, then that individual person is projected as a lawyer. What I mean to say is agar main koi criminal vakeel banana chaahata hoon, vo mere banne se nahi, woh toh society mujhe banati hai. Number of briefs jo mujhe aate hai...lekin initial stage me struggle rehta hai [If a person wants to be a criminal lawyer, it is society that makes him one. He may get briefs, but he has to struggle during the initial days].
DR: As a holder of a constitutional post, how does an Advocate General maintain a balance between espousing the cause of the state government and being true to the Constitutional framework?
AG: The State is a model litigant. Be it the State government or the Central government, we all are working for putting up the constitutional values. That is the prime object. So I don’t find any difficulty in espousing the case on behalf of the State government.
As the model litigant, our object is to reduce the pendency. Case load nowadays in the courts is increasing. It has increased a bit, 2 to 3%. If there is a possibility [we should] take recourse to the alternative dispute resolution system, be it mediation or lok adalat or even arbitration. We are working hard to keep the constitutional spirit high.
DR: But there can be instances when there is an apparent conflict between what the State government believes in and what the lawyer thinks to be morally just or legally correct. What do you do then?
AG: I joined this office on October 13, 2021. It’s a very short period of time, but during this period, I have not yet come across such instances which you have stated. As a legal advisor of the State government, I have a very good coordination with the government, so I have not yet come across such instances.
DR: The Central and State governments are responsible for the majority of litigation pending in our courts. What role does the AG play in helping curb such litigation, particularly the frivolous appeals, and how responsive is the State to such advice?
AG: Our country is already having a national litigation policy and in consonance with that policy, even our State follows a Madhya Pradesh State Litigation Management Policy. So, we are working strictly as per the mandate of that policy. The prime object of that policy is that the State must behave like a model litigant.
We are also trying to work out the old pendency of different kinds of appeals or writ petitions before the High Court. So, we are trying to scrutinise such kinds of cases and we hand over the list to the High Court so that these cases may be placed before the lok adalat for resolution of the dispute. We have a team of competent law officers and we always consider which cases can be easily resolved through the alternative dispute resolution modes.
DR: As an AG, are you always taken in confidence while laws are being drafted and framed?
DR: How important is the AG's role in the law making procedure?
AG: Whenever there is a proposal to enact a law, a draft act is placed before me. I go through the law and the various judicial pronouncements made by the Supreme Court so as to ensure that the draft which is presented before me by the State is near to perfection. Subsequently, I advise the State government.
As of now, I have very good synergy with the State government. Before making any enactment, they seek my advice. I always do my best to advise them perfectly.
DR: The now withdrawn policy of the Madhya Pradesh government to reward public prosecutors for successfully arguing death penalty cases recently came under criticism from the Supreme Court. What was the reasoning behind the policy?
AG: You are talking about which policy?
DR: The one by which the State announced incentives for prosecutors who argued death penalty cases. This was pointed out by Attorney General KK Venugopal in the Supreme Court. As was reported, the State government told the apex court that the policy has been withdrawn.
AG: We have withdrawn that policy. What I personally think is that the performance of the prosecutor does not depend only on the incentive. I’m sorry I cannot answer this question because I am not aware when this policy was withdrawn by the State government. So I cannot comment on this.
DR: In 2013, you had quit as Additional Advocate General citing your responsibilities with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Are you still as passionately associated with the organisation?
AG: No. At that point of time, after I joined the office of Additional Advocate General around 15th of July 2009, I quit that office somewhere around 5th of May 2013. I may be wrong, I may not be in a position to quote the dates correctly...For the present, I am not having any assignment in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
DR: Assignment in the sense?
AG: I do not have any responsibility; I am not an office bearer of the RSS.
DR: Did your association with the RSS shape your understanding of society and the law and order system?
AG: See, for the understanding of law, you need not join any organisation. You are required to join good universities to learn law. Whether it is a lawyer or any businessman or doctor or engineer, apart from their professional activities, we also have our personal lives where we carry out our extra-curricular activities. You are not doing that for understanding your profession. So I mean you are not putting that question correctly. I have not joined RSS to learn more about law. That I will have to learn from the universities, isn’t it?
DR: What is your view on the recent Khargone communal violence controversy? Was due process of law followed in the demolition of properties ordered by the State?
AG: Yes. We have strictly adhered to the various provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Municipalities Act of 1961. There is not a single instance where we have not followed the provisions of law. Notices were issued and the cases were pending since long period of time before the revenue authorities, and municipal authorities. It was after following due process of law that action was taken.
DR: Why do you think this entire issue of "bulldozer politics" started?
AG: See I don’t know what the media is saying about it. I am really not interested in answering what is going on in various media channels. But I can tell you with full certainty that in the matter relating to removal of encroachment in the Khargone district, we have followed due process of law. We have given notices to the concerned encroacher, and after following due process of law, that encroachment was removed.
DR: What was the need for introducing the Madhya Pradesh Public and Private Property Prevention and Recovery of Damages Bill, 2021?
AG: In public property, a lot of public money is involved. You and I as taxpayers, we pay taxes to the government and from that hard earned money, public property is established. So any damage caused to that property is a loss to a citizen, it is a loss to you and me also...To take proper care of that, the law has been legislated.
DR: Do you think there is need to notify minorities based on their population at the State/district level?
AG: I will leave this question to the policymakers. I don’t think that I need to comment on it.
DR: There is a lot of recent litigation on claims over places of worship. In this backdrop, do you think it is time to take a re-look at the Places of Worship Act, 1991?
AG: See, the matter is pending for consideration before the Supreme Court. I cannot comment on it.
DR: It has often been said that the police is a mere extension of the executive as opposed to a body responsible for upholding law and order. Do you see any imminent need for police reforms?
AG: Sometimes it depends on the litigant. Whenever litigation is pending before the court, litigant makes a request to the court to transfer case to another agency - CBI or any other agency. And if that particular litigant believes that justice will be done only when a particular agency investigates the crime, and if court passes some direction or order, we are there to comply with the directions.
So one cannot say that because of this, the police force of the State of the Madhya Pradesh is not working impartially and because of that, such kind of directions are coming. Sometimes, litigants make a request to the court and it is well within the right of that litigant.