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Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman has resigned, 18 months after he replaced Gopal Subramaniam, amid speculation that serious differences with Law Minister Ashwani Kumar may have prompted the decision. However, this could not be ascertained as calls and text messages to Ashwani Kumar went unanswered.
Nariman resigned without citing any reason. Sources in the law ministry said relations between Nariman and Kumar had been deteriorating for some time, in part because of the minister’s blunt manner. Things came to a head when the law minister asked Nariman to appear before the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), when the latter was hearing a part-heard matter in the Supreme Court and had said he would attend it, time permitting.
Normally, even additional solicitor generals do not attend such hearings “unless they are very critical”, said a former law officer in the government. Words were exchanged over the telephone, and Nariman sent his resignation yesterday, though it was not made public immediately. He also wrote a letter to the prime minister.
Nariman is the second law officer to quit his post midway during the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Earlier, Gopal Subramaniam, apparently unhappy with Kapil Sibal’s decision to appoint Rohinton Nariman to appear in a PIL (public interest litigation) filed against Sibal, had also quit. Subramaniam had then told Business Standard the Union minister should have taken the consent of the solicitor general before inducting Nariman in the case. Subramaniam had also said the office of solicitor general demands a certain degree of respect.
On Sunday, a senior Supreme Court lawyer’s birthday party was hosted by Nariman at his official residence, in which more than 200 senior lawyers, including Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, were present.
By then, Nariman had already sent in his resignation. The speculation was that this was Nariman’s way of announcing he was returning to the bar.
Members of the legal fraternity said they were aware of some rivalry between Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati and Nariman; both of them are lawyers from Mumbai. But the proximate cause for Nariman’s resignation was differences with the minister.