Noted barrister and senior advocate Samaraditya Pal passes away

Pal was one of the most well-known advocates of the Calcutta High Court and was respected for his constitutional acumen.

TODAY morning, eminent barrister and senior advocate of the Calcutta High Court, Samaraditya Pal, passed away at the age of 84 years. Born and brought up in Kolkata, he was popularly known as ‘Bachchu Pal’ among the legal fraternity. He acquired his barrister degree from Inner Temple, London. He was considered to be one of the finest constitutional law experts in the country and has authored books like India’s Constitution: Origins and Evolution published by LexisNexis.

Advocate Moloy Ghatak, who is also the law minister of West Bengal, expressed his condolences and remembered Pal as “a moving encyclopaedia of law and the Indian Constitution in the true sense“.

Advocate Sabyasachi Chatterjee, who practises at the Calcutta High Court, said, “Pal sir was a bodhivriksha. I once saw him argue a case of election fraud from 10:30 in the morning till 8:30 at night. He was also very thorough. I remember he went through the entire ADM Jabalpur case law at least four times in 2015 alone, when he was about to close his practice.”

Advocate Nauroz Rehbar of the same court had this to say about Pal: “I have not met anyone who was as nice to juniors as Bachchu Pal sir. He has been a mentor to so many advocates at the Calcutta High Court. He always used to tell us that an advocate should not only look like an advocate inside the courtroom, but his behaviour outside the courtroom should also be exemplary.”

Lawyer and Member of Parliament (M.P.) Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya expressed his sentiments about the departed jurist in these words, “Pal was a humanist at heart. The number of cases he fought without charging anything is astonishing.

Advocate Chatterjee was also all praises for Pal’s personality, “He was a true gentleman who was kind to his juniors and always used to ask their opinion on legal matters, so that they would gain both the experience and the confidence to practise law.”

Chief Minister of the state, Mamata Banerjee, also expressed her condolences. She shared a chequered history with Pal, and there were times when the two found themselves pitted against each other.

One such instance was the Tata Nano Singur controversy. In 2006, when the then Tata group chairman Ratan Tata announced a Nano-project — of producing the world’s cheapest car — at Singur in the Hooghly district of Kolkata, Banerjee came in support of the protesting farmers.

These farmers were protesting against the alleged forcible acquisition of land for setting up the proposed Nano project. Banerjee sat on an indefinite hunger strike, which eventually led to the protests being called off and the announcement by Tata of exit from Singur.

When Banerjee was sworn in as the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2011, she enacted the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 to reclaim the land acquired by Tata Motors.

This subsequently led to a long legal battle where Tata Motors was represented by none other than Pal himself. Pal had alleged that the legislation was unconstitutional and ultra vires and eventually, the division bench of the Calcutta High Court struck down the legislation.

The Telegraph had reported that during the Tata Motors hearing, Pal was against then advocate general Anindya Mitra, who were not just two well-known barristers of Kolkata but also best friends, and with them up against each other, the courtroom would usually turn out to be a jurisprudence class for law students.

Even though Banerjee challenged the order of the division bench before the Supreme Court, the latter quashed the land acquisition by Tata Motors and ordered the government to return the land to farmers.

Pal also represented the State Election Commission in the Panchayat election case against the state of West Bengal.

His memorable career at the court was underlined by M.P. Bhattacharya in these words: “His legal acumen was extraordinary. I remember in the Mira Pande case, he was an unstoppable force of nature in the way he argued the matter.

Advocate Chatterjee added, “Pal was the way he was — hardworking, kind and diligent — because he was first and foremost a true democrat who had adopted the constitution as a way of life, and wanted to take constitutionalism forward in this country. His 11 volumes of publications are a testimony of this. His expertise on election law was unmatched and will be sorely missed.

Advocate Bidhayak Lahiri of the Calcutta High Court summed it up: “Pal was a god of law for us. Words like ‘expert’ and ‘stalwart’ can’t do justice to his legacy. He was a god, and as such, he is irreplaceable. India has lost a great son today.”

Pal died of cardiac arrest and is survived by his wife Justice Ruma Pal, a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India.

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