Around 500 lawyers will be accommodated in new chambers, SCBA Secretary Gaurav Bhatia

Gaurav Bhatia, SCBA Secretary

Gaurav Bhatia is hardly an unknown face for Supreme Court regulars. As Uttar Pradesh’s former Additional Advocate General, Bhatia has had a successful practice in the apex court. But that is not all.

Elected for the second time as the Secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Bhatia has let his work speak for himself. Despite this, controversy, like an unshakable poltergeist, seems to follow him.

In this exclusive interview with Bar and Bench’s Vasudha Misra, Bhatia opens up on his plans as SCBA Secretary, working with recently elected President R S Suri, and everything a Supreme Court lawyer can look forward to in this term.

(Edited excerpts)

Vasudha Misra: What made you take an interest in law?

Gaurav Bhatia: My father, the late Virendra Bhatia, whom I idolize the most, was the Advocate General for the State of UP. He is a major influence. He was a Member of Parliament, the Bar Council Chairman, and President of the High Court Bar Association four times. I want to follow in his footsteps.

Secondly, law is a profession which stimulates you intellectually, and where you can leave a mark. You can serve the society; I think this makes it one of the noblest professions. And that is what drives me. My father always used to say, ‘Always serve the fraternity that gives you everything.’

By being a [bar association] office bearer, you make your own small contribution; you ensure that the present is better for lawyers and the future is secured for young lawyers.

Vasudha Misra: You have won the SCBA elections for the second time now. What do you think made you connect with the voters?

Gaurav Bhatia: I never felt as if I was campaigning. Every lawyer I met, every call I made, I got to hear a things that were very satisfying. People said that I was always accessible. And that’s because in the past one year, I made a conscious effort to be available to my colleagues and my phone was on 24×7, 365 days a year.

Second, the voters felt that I was committed to the cause of ensuring that the SCBA is a bar that delivers to the people. It was a mission that I had, and with the collective effort of the most of the Executive Committee (EC) members, we were able to achieve the same.

In spite of some very strong headwind from someone I looked up to and thought I’d be getting support from, we delivered. When I made those calls to my colleagues, they said, ‘You have earned your second term’. That was most satisfying.

I would especially like to thank last year’s Vice President, the joint Secretary and joint Treasurer, who were extremely supportive, and other senior members who were extremely kind to me.

I also owe gratitude to Chief Justice TS Thakur. He has always been a friend to the Bar, and has been more than kind in acceding to our demands. We’re looking forward to Justice Khehar taking over; he has the right legal acumen and is a judge of impeccable integrity.

Vasudha Misra: How are the chamber allotments coming along?

Gaurav Bhatia: When the last EC took charge, we looked at the files. There was not a single correspondence, at least on record, on whether we had asked the Hon’ble CJI or the Secretary General of the Supreme Court about how many chambers are coming up.

And it’s a serious matter of concern for all of us that announcements were made in the years 2010-2011 saying that 500 chambers would come up. Now, we’re being told that 200-300 chambers will be constructed. There was no clarity. Therefore, we wanted to ask in writing. The EC approved of this stand, though it was opposed by the senior-most Executive Committee member.

In the beginning of 2016, we wrote a letter to the Secretary General, and he responded that approximately two hundred and fifty chambers with ‘double occupancy’ are coming up. So around five hundred lawyers will be accommodated.

We are still pursuing the matter. The last applications for allotment of chambers were invited in 2004-2005, and no applications have been invited for the last 12 years. But we are working towards that, and have been assured that it will be done in the first quarter of 2017.

Vasudha Misra: Junior advocates were a major point of discussion during this year’s elections.

Gaurav Bhatia: Firstly, I think there should be a conducive environment for the junior lawyers to grow in. For that, it is important that we have a very good library, where they can study. There should also be some consultation rooms where they can deal with their clients, because junior lawyers don’t have chambers exclusively for them.

In the future, we are also looking at things like placement with eminent seniors.

Vasudha Misra: There was a very public rift within the highest echelons of the SCBA during your tenure.

Gaurav Bhatia: Well, [I have spent] fourteen years in the Supreme Court without a single serious argument, leave alone altercation with any judge or lawyer. Yes, I do take the path that is required to be taken and which my conscience says is virtuous.

And if settled institutional structures are not serving people properly, or if change is the need of the hour, then I don’t shy away from voicing my opinion or doing my bit. Which again, I think is being honest to the position I am representing.

Vasudha Misra: How do you deal with finding yourself in the midst of such controversies?

Gaurav Bhatia: I would only say that there are always two paths in life: a path that is easier, that appears to be peaceful but is not the best path for the well-being of the members, and a path that is of conviction and virtue. The latter leads to the prosperity of my Bar members, but might lead to the impression that there is temporarily some disturbance.

If something needs to be done, it needs to be done. You cannot follow the easier path to convey the impression that everything is peaceful. And I think I took the tougher path.

Vasudha Misra: How has the work of the SCBA impacted your litigation practice? Being Secretary does look like a full time job.

Gaurav Bhatia: From 2012 onwards to 2016, I have had a hectic, or I would say, demanding stint as an Additional Advocate General. Then in March 2016 , I decided to start with my private practice.

The private practice has been very challenging and even more lucrative but there are times when you have to give priority to the welfare of the Bar Association as it’s a responsibility you have chosen for yourself. More than 15,000 members have reposed their faith in you and you have to live up to their expectations.

I had to take some tough decisions, and I am happy to share that I have always leaned towards the work of the Bar Association. That probably resulted in some kind of a monetary loss, but then that is a choice you make in life. And in no way would I like to lose the confidence of my Bar members who are like my family, for a few more cases.

Vasudha Misra: What would you say will be the highlights of your upcoming term?

Gaurav Bhatia: One cause that is very dear to the office bearers is that lawyers, especially juniors, working in the Supreme Court should get opportunities of career advancement and growth, especially with respect to being considered for designation as Senior Advocates and elevation as High Court Judges.

The EC would be the happiest if we could raise the limit of life insurance cover per member from the current ceiling of Rs. 5 lakh. That would be our priority. Also, if we can extend the coverage to all Bar members, that would be wonderful.

Lastly, infrastructure is also a major commitment. The Appu Ghar complex is almost ready. We just need to ensure that there are adequate number of chambers for lawyers, that the allotment process is started at the earliest, and that the layout is shared with the SCBA, etc.

Vasudha Misra: Finally, what are you most looking forward to while working with first time President RS Suri?

Gaurav Bhatia: Actually, we’ve already started working together. I see a respected lawyer, a very warm individual and a leader who knows how to keep the flock together. And I look forward to a great working year. Things that are unfinished, that require our attention and new ideas will be implemented.

This year, people said that [the past term] has been the most productive tenure of the Executive Committee, and I am sure we’ll beat that by miles by the time 2017 comes to an end.