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Priti Patnaik: Lawyer swallows bitter PIL


Priti Patnaik  |  New Delhi 

When he is not crunching numbers or practising law, Sandeep Parekh loves to go rock climbing, rafting and kayaking. But over the past couple of months, all that has taken a backseat; Parekh had something much more interesting to do "" take on the human resource development (HRD) ministry.
As visiting faculty to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), he was witness to the beginning of the stand-off between the premier management institute and the ministry last winter. "It was too crucial to escape my attention," he says.
So, at least a month before the actual order came from the ministry, he and his legal team had put together a (PIL). The PIL contended that the ministry was trying to challenge the of the institute.
Parekh says he never quite anticipated that the issue would snowball into such a major controversy. Nothing was going right for him initially. Questions were also raised "" mostly from ministry officials "" about his locus standii in the issue. Even the recognised this initially. Most importantly, the themselves distanced themselves from Parekh.
Parekh's hurt shows at all this opposition. He thinks filing a PIL is a natural right for an Indian citizen if he feels strongly about an issue. With the opting for dialogue with the ministry at the last hearing, Parekh says he is "out of the action now".
He feels the lawyer representing did not understand the real issues. "The dialogue route should have been used by only if things were going against the petitioners," he says.
The issue, however, gave Parekh his moment in the sun. And he's not complaining. Ask him how he handled all the media attention, the 30-something Parekh says, "It certainly was not too much!"
After taking a law degree from Delhi University in 1995, Parekh did his Masters in Law in securities and financial regulation at the Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington. He recalls how law as a vocation was stereotyped as the "last career option" a decade ago.
In Washington, Parekh worked with Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in their securities group as an associate, advising financial institutions such as Prudential, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Paine Webber on securities compliance and regulatory matters, particularly broker-dealer issues.
He was back in India in 1998 and joined his father's flourishing legal firm, P H Parekh & Co. The most challenging project he has worked on was drafting the modifications and additions to the rules, regulations and bylaws of the Bombay Stock Exchange when options trading was introduced in the derivatives segment.
In fact, during his tenure in Washington, Parekh also advised the New York Stock Exchange on stock exchange regulations.
In India, Parekh has been involved in several crucial corporate cases. For instance, he represented a consortium of Mauritius-based companies that filed an appeal in the supporting the continuation of the double taxation treaty. The court upheld his contention about the validity of the treaty.
He also advised Citibank on implementing preventive measures against insider trading and is now working on a $ 12-billion investment fund on participatory notes and investment advice.
The financial and legal specialist feels with the executive slow on delivering the goods for the people, it is the judiciary that is expected to perform a supra-governmental function. Given the constraints under which it works, he thinks the judiciary in India has been doing a reasonable job.
A judge in the US, for example, presides over 100 cases a year, while his Indian counterpart presides over as many cases in a week. This obviously has an effect on the quality and objectivity of some of the judgements.
It is also difficult to dispense justice that will be effective after implementation. Citing the bonded labourers' case, he says that after the Supreme Court passed the landmark judgement on the case in 1984, only three people have been liberated from bonded labour.
He is, however, unhappy with "the ease" with which decisions affecting millions of people are discussed rather simplistically in court rooms. While judicial tyranny might not have become a trend, India has been witness to anti-people rulings of the Supreme Court, be it the anti-strike judgement, or eviction of slum dwellers, or the contentious Narmada directive.
While Parekh's faith in the PIL as a powerful tool for judicial activism remains unshaken, he has put the IIM fiasco behind him. Currently, his hands are full advising a "high profile person" against a Securities and Exchange Board of India order on conflict of interest. No prizes for guessing who this person is.

First Published: Mon, April 26 2004. 00:00 IST