Mr. Harish Salve, A Lawyer Par Excellence

This Article is written by Shambhavi, a student of Banasthali Vidyapeeth working as the Content Director at Legge Rhythms Media and Publications.

As a young boy, Harish wanted to be an engineer. By the time he was ready for college, he was deeply interested in chartered accountancy, wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps. Born in Nagpur, he went to SFS School, which was established by the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales in 1870. After graduating in commerce from Nagpur University, he studied law and chartered accountancy simultaneously.

 Harish had failed his chartered accountancy exams twice. “Failure teaches you more in life than success does. Dealing with success is easy accepting disappointments with equanimity and harnessing the energy of failure to achieve greater heights are the greatest lessons in life”, Harish says. Harish felt that he must explore and take some risks doing other things. He wanted to start his independent practice. In 1980, he got himself enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi and decided to move away from accountancy.

In 1978, Harish decided to relocate to Delhi to try his luck by setting up his practice at the Supreme Court and joined J.B Dadachandji & Co. as an intern. It was at this time that he got an opportunity to assist Palkhivala in the Minerva Mills Case.

Salve’s legal career began when he assisted his father in 1975 in Dilip Kumar’s Case. He followed and represented Dilip Kumar in the Supreme Court. It was a moment of pride, a challenge that Harish confronted with trepidation. It was one of the most “ telling events” of his life when he was made to argue before a five-judge Constitution Bench at the Supreme Court in the important Bearer Bonds Case. This case established him as a lawyer.

Harish designated as a senior advocate by the Delhi High Court in 1992. He has been frequently representing large companies like Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited in big-ticket cases like the Krishna – Godavari Basin Gas Dispute case against his younger brother Anil Ambani’s Reliance Natural Resources Limited.           

Harish also defended Keshub Mahindra in the Union Carbide Case when the government filed a curative petition seeking a review of the Apex Court’s verdict dated 13 September 1996 in Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case. By that verdict, the Apex Court had quashed the framing of charges against Mahindra and six other officials of Union Carbide India for committing culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which attracted maximum imprisonment of ten years.                 

Harish was appointed as Amicus Curiae by the Supreme Court in several notable cases including the Environmental and Forest Conservation Cases and Delhi Vehicular Pollution Case. “Amicus Curiae”, in literal terms, means ‘ a friend of the court’. Harish was also appointed the amicus by the Court in another case related to the Gujarat riots.

As a young lawyer, Harish learned a great amount from working with Palkhivala. He taught Harish to make excellence an end unto itself. He would often tell Harish, then a budding lawyer, that the measure of how well you’ve argued in court comes not from the decision of the court, but how you personally feel you’ve performed. Like other successful lawyers, Harish also values rigorous preparation and firmly believes that spontaneity is what distinguishes a good counsel from a not-so-good one. He is greatly appreciated and respected in corporate circles as well.

Harish took over as the Solicitor General of India (SG) in 1999 during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime. He was only forty-two at the time and held office till 2002. As the SG, he handled several important cases on behalf of the government. The Tamil Nadu Water Dispute Case was an important matter where Karnataka refused to open water channels of the Cauvery river for Tamil Nadu’s use.

Harish decided to join London’s Blackstone Chambers to become an English Barrister. He was called to join Gray’s Inn- one of four London Inns of Courts that barristers are required to join before they can practice before courts in England and Wales. He is now engaged with a lot of international work by way of international arbitrations including bilateral treaty obligations. He is at present working on building a practice in the commercial courts.

As the second topmost law officer for the Union of India, Harish conducted a large number of important matters like the first anti-dumping case which was argued in the Supreme Court, and the case of privatization of public sector undertakings, the Balco Case. He was also involved in important non-litigation work such as helping in the World Trade Organization negotiations, helping in drafting the electricity reforms, etc.

In May 2017, he represented India before the International Court of Justice in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. Jadhav was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of spying. Due to his efforts, the International Court of Justice has ordered a provisional stay on Jadhav’s execution until a final verdict is declared. For this case he charged only ₹1(INR) in legal fees.

Harish Salve is simple and modest at heart, but a thorough professional as well – the perfect role model for budding young lawyers. Harish may have climbed heights and received accolades, but there are certain simple things that have made him a prominent figure in the Hall of Legal Fame.

Harish Salve is a lawyer par excellence and has been ranked amongst the most powerful persons in the country today. Salve was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third-highest civilian honor on Republic Day in 2015.

He was appointed as Queen’s Counsel for the courts of England and Wales in January 2020. The title of QC is awarded to those who have demonstrated particular skill and expertise in the conduct of advocacy.

An ‘activist’ court is no substitute for good government, but at the same time, the judicial arm of social reform can not be a mute spectator to rampant executive apathy and violation of constitutional norms.