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Learn from Nani Palkhivala: A PDF Biography of a Legal Legend

Nani Palkhivala Biography: A Legendary Lawyer and a Noted Jurist

Nanabhoy "Nani" Ardeshir Palkhivala (1920-2002) was one of India's most eminent lawyers and jurists. He was also a renowned economist, public speaker, author, diplomat, and patriot. He played a crucial role in shaping India's constitutional law and defending its democracy. He was a champion of civil liberties, human rights, free enterprise, and judicial independence. He was admired for his eloquence, erudition, courage, integrity, and vision.

Nani Palkhivala Biography Pdf Free

In this article, we will explore the life and achievements of Nani Palkhivala, who has been described as "the conscience keeper of the nation" by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Early life and education

Nani Palkhivala was born in 1920 in Bombay (now Mumbai) to middle-class Parsi parents. His family name is derived from the profession of his forefathers, who were manufacturers of palanquins ("palkhis"). He was educated at Masters Tutorial High School, and later at St. Xavier's College, both in Bombay. He was a dedicated scholar and excelled even though he was hampered by a bad stammer.

He developed a passion for English literature and aspired to be a lecturer in that subject. However, he could not get admission into any institution of higher learning due to the quota system. He then enrolled at Government Law College, Bombay, where he graduated with honors in 1944.

He also taught himself economics by reading books from the library. He became fascinated by the works of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and others. He applied his economic knowledge to his practice of tax law, which he learned from his mentor Sir Jamshedji Behramji Kanga.

Career as a lawyer

Nani Palkhivala was admitted to the bar in 1946 and joined the chambers of Sir Jamshedji Kanga in Bombay. He soon gained a reputation as an eloquent and brilliant advocate. He specialized in commercial and tax law, but also took up constitutional law cases. He wrote several books on tax law, including The Law and Practice of Income Tax, which became an authoritative reference for tax professionals.

He argued several landmark cases before the Supreme Court of India, which established him as one of India's finest constitutional lawyers. Some of these cases are:

  • Nusserwanji Balsara vs. State of Bombay (1951): He challenged several provisions of the Bombay Prohibition Act on the grounds that they violated fundamental rights.

  • A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras (1950): He defended A.K. Gopalan, a communist leader who was detained under the Preventive Detention Act, and argued for a broader interpretation of the right to personal liberty.

  • Golaknath vs. State of Punjab (1967): He contended that the Parliament had no power to amend the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

  • Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala (1973): He led a team of lawyers to challenge the validity of the 24th, 25th, and 29th constitutional amendments, which curtailed the fundamental rights and gave unlimited amending power to the Parliament. He argued that the Constitution had a basic structure that could not be altered by any amendment. He also coined the term "basic structure doctrine" in this case.

  • Minerva Mills vs. Union of India (1980): He challenged the 42nd constitutional amendment, which inserted a clause in Article 368 that made any amendment immune from judicial review. He also challenged the validity of the National Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975.

In all these cases, he displayed his mastery of constitutional law, his persuasive skills, his logical reasoning, and his moral conviction. He was widely respected by the judges, his colleagues, and his opponents. He was also admired by the public, who thronged to the court to hear him speak.

He was also a pioneer of public interest litigation in India. He filed several petitions on behalf of various causes, such as environmental protection, consumer rights, minority rights, and electoral reforms. He also represented several prominent personalities, such as J.R.D. Tata, Ratan Tata, Ramkrishna Bajaj, Morarji Desai, and Rajiv Gandhi.

Career as a public figure

Nani Palkhivala was not only a lawyer, but also a public intellectual and a statesman. He was a vocal critic of the policies of Nehruvian socialism and Indira Gandhi's emergency. He advocated for economic liberalization, fiscal discipline, and market reforms. He also opposed corruption, populism, and authoritarianism.

He was a prolific writer and speaker on various topics of national and international importance. He wrote several books, such as We, the People, We, the Nation, Our Constitution Defaced and Defiled, and India's Priceless Heritage. He also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, such as The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Illustrated Weekly of India, and Reader's Digest.

He was famous for his annual budget analysis speeches at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay, which attracted thousands of listeners from all walks of life. He explained the complex economic issues in simple and lucid language, and exposed the flaws and fallacies of the government's policies. He also offered constructive suggestions and alternatives for improving the economy and the welfare of the people.

He served as India's ambassador to the United States from 1977 to 1979, during the Janata Party government. He played a key role in improving the bilateral relations between the two countries, which had deteriorated during Indira Gandhi's regime. He also represented India at various international forums and conferences.

He was a member of several commissions and committees appointed by the government or by private organizations. Some of these are:

  • The Rajagopala Ayyangar Committee on Patent Law Revision (1957-1959): He recommended changes in the patent law to suit India's needs and interests.

  • The Raja Chelliah Committee on Tax Reforms (1991-1993): He suggested measures to simplify and rationalize the tax system and to reduce tax evasion.

  • The Godbole Committee on Centre-State Relations (2000-2001): He proposed ways to strengthen the federal structure and to resolve inter-state disputes.

  • The Tata Administrative Services Advisory Board (1983-2002): He advised the Tata group on various management and governance issues.

Legacy and recognition

Nani Palkhivala left an indelible mark on India's legal profession and judiciary. He inspired generations of lawyers and judges with his brilliance, integrity, and dedication. He also contributed immensely to India's economic development and democratic consolidation. He was a role model for many Indians who aspire to serve their country with excellence and dignity.

He received several awards and honors for his work. Some of these are:

  • The Padma Vibhushan (1998): India's second-highest civilian award.

  • The Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Prize (1987): For his I'll try to create that. contribution to India's economic development and democracy.

  • The Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Prize (1987): For his outstanding service to the nation.

  • The M.R. Pai Memorial Award (1997): For his excellence in law and public affairs.

  • The Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service (2002): For his distinguished record of service to humanity.

He was also conferred honorary doctorates by several universities, such as Princeton University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Mumbai, and Banaras Hindu University.

He was featured on a commemorative postage stamp issued by the Government of India in 2004. He was also honored by various institutions and organizations, such as the Bar Council of India, the Forum of Free Enterprise, the Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Trust, and the Nani Palkhivala Arbitration Centre.


Nani Palkhivala was a multifaceted personality who excelled in various fields of human endeavor. He was a lawyer par excellence, a jurist of international repute, an economist of vision, a public speaker of charisma, an author of insight, a diplomat of skill, and a patriot of conviction. He was a defender of the Constitution, a protector of civil rights, a promoter of economic freedom, and a crusader for social justice. He was a man of principles, values, and ideals. He was a legend in his lifetime and a legacy for posterity.


  • When and where was Nani Palkhivala born?

Nani Palkhivala was born on January 16, 1920 in Bombay (now Mumbai), India.

  • What was his family name derived from?

His family name was derived from the profession of his forefathers, who were manufacturers of palanquins ("palkhis").

  • What was his main area of specialization as a lawyer?

His main area of specialization as a lawyer was constitutional law. He also practiced commercial and tax law.

  • What was the most famous case he argued before the Supreme Court?

The most famous case he argued before the Supreme Court was Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala (1973), in which he propounded the basic structure doctrine.

  • What was his role as India's ambassador to the United States?

His role as India's ambassador to the United States was to improve the bilateral relations between the two countries, which had deteriorated during Indira Gandhi's regime.


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