NANI ARDESHIR PALKHIVALA (1920-2020) A tribute on his birth centenary

A tribute on his birth centenary – by Marzban Jamshedji Giara

Nanabhoy Ardeshir Palkhivala popularly known as Nani was born on 16th January 1920 at Bombay in a middle class Parsi family. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father used to fix “palkhis” namely palanquins to be fitted with horse carriages. Hence the surname Palkhivala.

From childhood he was afflicted with writer’s cramp and a terrible stammer which he overcame by sheer will power. He became one of India’s foremost speakers. He studied at Master’s Tutorial High School where he was a brilliant student. He passed M.A. in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay. He married Nargesh Matbar who was also a lawyer in 1945. They had no children.

He joined the Chambers of the legendary Sir Jamshedji Kanga in 1943. He stood First Class First in the first and second LL.B. exams in 1943 and 1944 from Government Law College.  In 1946 he stood first in every single paper in the advocate (original side) examination of the Bombay High Court. At a very young age he was offered a seat on the Supreme Court directly from the Bar which he declined. He was a Fellow of the Government Law College from 1944 to 1946, a faculty member from 1949 to 1952 and later Honorary Professor. He was also appointed the Tagore Professor of Law at Calcutta University.

His forte was in the areas of constitutional law, taxation and company law, individual freedom and enterprise and economic affairs. His rise in the profession was meteoric. He rose to become one of India’s foremost legal luminaries. He combined eloquence with wisdom, sincerity with versatility vision with achievement.  He was unsurpassable for sheer advocacy, clarity of thought, coupled with precision and elegance of expression, impassioned plea for the cause he espoused, excellent court craft and an extraordinary ability to think on his feet rendered him an irresistible force. He took up in the Supreme Court the Privy Piurses Case, the Bank Nationalisation Case in 1970 and Kesavananda Bharti Case on Fundamental Rights in 1972-73. He also represented India in three cases in international fora.

He was an authority on income tax, an advocate par excellence, a diplomat, an economist, a write and public speaker gifted with phenomenal memory who delighted his audiences. He was the conscience keeper of the nation. He was a severe critic of the taxation and budget policies of the Government of India and a champion of private enterprise. He was a voracious reader, a prolific writer and a perfectionist.

His annual budget speeches started in 1958 in a small hall at Green’s Hotel. These became so popular throughout India that Brabourne Stadium had to be booked for an audience of over 1,00,000 in 1992 which listened in pin drop silence – a one man public education effort on economic affairs.

His outstanding quality was the willingness to help people in need. He made frequent anonymous contribution to charitable causes. His rare quality was humility and modesty. Like most Parsis he had a good sense of humour and could laugh at himself. He walked with Kings and yet not lost the common touch. He was a Man of All Seasons who bestrode the world like a colossus.

The Janta Government appointed him as India’s ambassador to the United States from September 1977 to July 1979.

In the 1980s Nani and Nargesh donated one building at Godrej Baug, a Parsi colony managed by Bombay Parsi Punchayet.  In 1987 Nani organized a function at Bombay House auditorium and released the third volume of Dr. Bahman Surti’s “Shah Namah of Firdaosi in English Prose.” He also interviewed him on All India Radio.

Mr. K. B. Dabke wrote in the Mumbai Samachar on 15th January 1995 an article entitled “To Nani With Love” on his 75th birthday: “Amongst the contemporary eminent jurists who have distinguished their presence at the Bar and Boardroom of corporate world alike Mr. N. A. Palkhivala ranks as the first. If transparent integrity is his calling card, an art to communicate is his forte. Gifted with an enquiring mind, penetrating intellect and photographic memory.”

Important dates

. Member of the First Law Commission in 1955 and Second Law Commission in 1958.

. 1975 – Elected an Honorary Member of the Academy of Political Science, New York- in recognition of his “outstanding public service and distinguished contributions to the advancement of political science.”

June 1978 – Conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the Princeton University, New Jersey (U.S.A.) describing him as “defender of constitutional liberties, champion of human rights, teacher, author and economic developer”

April 1979  – Conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the Lawrence University, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

1982 – Nominated by the chancellor (the Governor) as a Member of the Senate of the University of Bombay.

March 3, 1993 – Honoured as “Person of the Year Award” by the Limca Book of Records.

November 1996 – Presented an award with the Scroll of Honour in Mumbai by the Navsari Parsi Association in great appreciation of his “magnificent work in promoting Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, an Unfettered Press, Political Science as an Author, Constitutional and Taxation Expert, an Economic Developer, and promoter of Social Welfare.”

1997 – Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award

January 1998 – Conferred the Degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) by the University of Mumbai. This degree was conferred “as a mark of the University of Mumbai’s high esteem and appreciation of his contribution to the people at large.”

January 1998 – Conferred the “Padma Vibhushan” by the President of India.

March 17 1998 – On his being conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, the World Zoroastrian Organisation and the Parsi community felicitated Mr. Palkhivala at a grand function on the lawns of Cusrow Baug, Colaba, when he was presented with an award and a Scroll of Honour which read: “In sincere tribute to your many years of selfless, devoted and faithful service and mindful of the affection and esteem in which you are held by the common man in India and by the Parsi Zoroastrians all over the world.”

February 4 , 2000 – Conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa)  by the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Chennai.

Activities outside the sphere of work

Trustee of several charitable trusts to help those in genuine need.

Chairman, Oriental Heritage Trust founded in 1984 which funded the film On Wings of Fire.

Chairman since 1966, A. D. Shroff Trust.

Chairman, Lotus Trust

President of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal Bar Association, Bombay

Associated with Forum of Free Enterprise from 1960 being its President from 1968 upto February 17, 2000 and later President Emeritus.

Chairman of The Leslie Sawhney Programme of Training for Democracy which trains people in democratic leadership.

In June 1977, he founded ‘The Jayaprakash Institute of Human Freedoms.’

President of the Federation of Blood Banks.

He was the Vice President of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He donated every year 10% of his net income to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for its Sadachar Bharat work. He donated crores of rupees to Sankara Netralaya, Chennai.

Associations with Companies

Chairman Emeritus – (A.C.C.) Associated Cement Companies Ltd. He was its Chairman from 1969 to 1998 and was also Chairman of several overseas companies.

Director of Tata Sons Ltd., Tata Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. (TISCO), Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd. (TELCO),  Tata Infotech Ltd., Tata Energy Research Institute, Indian Hotels Co. Ltd., National Organic Chemical Industries Ltd. (NOCIL), Press Trust Of India Ltd.

He passed away on 11th December 2002 aged 82 at Mumbai. C. Rajagopalachari, Free India’s first Governor General said of him: “He was God’s gift to us. His passing away has left a dent in Indian humanity.”

A commemorative postage stamp of Rs.5/- was released by the Government of India on 16th January 2004 being Nani’s 84th birthday.

His nephew Mr. Homi Phiroz Ranina, an income tax expert and public speaker on the Union Budget has founded Jadi Rana High School at Sanjan and the school building is named after his illustrious uncle Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala Building.

Books by Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala

  1. New Patterns of Taxation, Bombay, Forum of Free Enterprise 1958.
  2. Recent Taxes in the Tax Structure, Bombay, Forum of Free Enterprise 1958
  3. Income Tax Bill Penalises Honest Tax Payers, Bombay, Forum of Free Enterprise 1961
  4. Privileges of Legislature, Bombay, Popular Prakashan,  1964
  5. Highest Taxed Nation, Bombay, Manaktala, 1965.
  6. Union Budget 1970-71, Bombay,, Forum of Free Enterprise, 1970
  7. Constitution and the Common Man, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1971
  8. A Judiciary Made to Measure: A Collection some of the Nationwide Protests against the Supersession of Justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover for the Office of the Chief Justice of India, Bombay, M. R. Pai, 1973
  9. Our Constitution Defaced and Defiled, New Delhi, Macmillan, 1973
  10. Fundamental Rights Case, the Critics Speak, Lucknow Eastern Book Co. 1975 by N. A. Palkhivala along with Surendra Malik (Eds.)
  11. Kanga nd Palkhivala’s Income Tax Law and Practice, Two Volumes, Bombay, Tripathi, 1976
  12. India Since Independence (First G. L. Mehta Memorial Lectures), Madras, 1978
  13. India’s Priceless Heritage, Bombay, Bhartiya Publications, 1980
  14. We the People: India, the Largest Democracy, Bombay, Strand Book Stall, 1984
  15. Enduring Relevance of Sardar Patel, 1992, (Sardar Patel Memorial Lectures), New Delhi, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1993
  16. We the Nation, New Delhi, UBS Publishers, 1994

Books on Nani Palkhivala

  1. Nani Palkhivala – Selected Writings, L.M. Singhvi, M. R. Pai, and S. Ramakrishnan (Eds.), Mumbai, Viking/Bhavan’s Book University, 1999
  2. Nani Palkhivala – The Courtroom Genius by Soli J. Sorabjee
  3. The Wit and Wisdom of Nani A. Palkhivala by Jignesh R. Shah
  4. Nani A. Palkhivala A Life by M. V. Kamath 2005
  5. Nani A. Palkhivala A Role Model by Major General Narendra Kumar
  6. Nani Palkhivala God’s gift to India  by Dharmendra Bhandari
  7. The Legend of Nani Palkhivala by M. R. Pai
  8. Nani Palkhivala A Miscellany by Suresh Balakrishnan
  9. 100 Witty Quotes by Nani Palkhivala

4 comments

  • SO MUCH GOOD FITTED IN TO ONE MAN.

  • An excellent write up,except an error on quoting C Rajagopalachari on Mr Palkhiwala’s death.Rajaji passed away on 1972.

  • Mahendra Singh P.

    A great Indian indeed 👌👍 I had the proud privilege of being a student of his nephew Homi P Ranina at JL Bajaj Institute over 40 years back while doing my MFM . A great teacher 🖕 Brilliant like his uncle Nani 👌

  • S. Divakara, former Director-General, Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Trust and Forum of Free Enterprise.

    Mr. Nani Palkhivala was also the Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services. Besides speaking on the Union Budget every year in Mumbai and later in several other cities, his booklets on the subject were published by Forum of Free Enterprise every year during 1958-1994 (except in 1978, 1979 and 1991). The Forum also published several other booklets authored by him during this period on other subjects. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had once invited him to be the Law Minister of the country which he declined. Earlier he had been offered the post of Attorney-General of India which also he declined. His book “Law and Practice of Income-Tax in India”, first published in 1950, is still regarded as the Bible on the subject in India. Late Chief Justice M.C. Chagla used to refer to this publication, merely as “the book”. He also authored a book entitled “Essential Unity of All Religions” in 1990, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

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