The usually staid law ministry has had more than its fair share of excitement in the past two weeks. First, there was the sudden exit of solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam, the second most senior law officer in the government late last week.
Subramaniam’s exit was rapidly followed by the shifting of law minister, Veerappa Moily himself, during the reshuffle earlier this week. Moily did not leave without alleging that he was done in by “vested interests”; a statement he later insisted he hadn’t quite made.
The new law minister, Salman Khurshid , a lawyer himself, will have to find a replacement for Subramaniam, but more than that, he has to recraft the government’s legal strategy which has taken a substantial beating of late in the Supreme Court, whether over the 2G scam, the Salwa Judum case, or the investigations into black money flows.
“We are putting in place a proper legal strategy to deal with the current situation,” Khurshid told ET on Sunday.
Subramaniam offered his resignation after the government chose to appoint Rohington Nariman to represent it in a petition against telecom minister Kapil Sibal .
And while outside lawyers (rather than senior law officers) can be appointed to represent the government in court, it was the way in which Nariman was appointed that forced Subramaniam to put in his papers. The government chose not to take Subramaniam’s advice when appointing Nariman, and this was widely seen as a snub.
“No self-respecting law officer would continue in office after such a clear expression of no-confidence,” says eminent lawyer Soli Sorabjee, who was the attorney general (AG) during the NDA regime. ET on Sunday attempted to contact Subramaniam repeatedly for this story. But he didn’t respond.
The PIL against Sibal was about alleged actions by him, as telecom minister, to reduce penalties against Anil Ambani-led RCom. Ultimately, the SC declined to pass an order in the case and Sibal was off the hook. “I think Sibal panicked when the petition hearing came up,” says a senior advocate, who sees the government’s move to appoint Nariman without taking Subramaniam’s advice as “graceless”.
Nariman’s appointment was widely seen as being pushed by Sibal, himself a top-flight lawyer. “Sibal knows the Supreme Court in and out and he would have had his reasons as to why Gopal should not appear,” says another advocate. “The way the government did this certainly reveals a lack of confidence in Subramaniam.”
“I wish his resignation had not happened,” Khurshid said. “Gopal was a fine lawyer.” He added: “But we have to move ahead. We will appoint a new SG soon.”
Subramaniam’s exit comes at the end of a harrowing time for the government in the Supreme Court. In November last year, during the course of inquiries into the 2G case, a Supreme Court bench said Manmohan Singh’s inaction in sanctioning the prosecution of former telecom minister A Raja “troubling”. Economic Times