G E Vahanvati, the 13th Attorney General of India, passed away after a heart attack today. Vahanvati, the country’s topmost law officer during the tenure of UPA II government, was 65. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remembered Vahanvati as a decent human being.
In his condolence message, the former PM said that in the demise of Vahanvati “India has lost an eminent legal luminary, a dedicated public servant and a very decent human being.”
Vahanvati was the Solicitor General of India during the tenure of United Progressive Alliance 1 from 2004 to 2009 and then Advocate General of the country during UPA 2 from 2009 to 2014. Singh had led the two governments. He quit on May 27 when Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government took over the reins. He was succeeded by Mukul Rohatgi.
Vahanvati’s role as the Solicitor General had come for investigation in the 2G spectrum scam. He was later given a clean chit. Former MP Gurudas Dasgupta had alleged that Vahanvati had undeclared assets in a UBS Bank account. Both Dasgupta and Vahanvati had filed legal notices against each other in the case.
In May 2013, Vahanvati had faced embarrassment when Additional Solicitor General Harin P Raval admitted that Vahanvati had indeed seen a Central Bureau of Investigation report on coal block scam, and that the Attorney General had incorrectly told the Supreme Court that he hadn’t.
Raval, in a letter to Vahanvati that became public, said that as a result he was forced to take a similar stand in the court that was consistent with Vahanvati’s submission.
Raval quit as the Additional Solicitor General. The SC had in that episode famously called CBI “a caged parrot” of the political executive for having shared the draft probe report with bureaucrats and a minister.
Goolam Essaji Vahanvati is survived by his wife and son. Vahanvati, a second generation lawyer, was appointed the Attorney General in June 2009. He was appointed the Solicitor General of India, the second highest law officer of India, in 2004, prior to which he was the Advocate General of Maharashtra since 1999.
Born on May 7, 1949, Vahanvati obtained a law degree from Government Law College in Mumbai after graduating from St. Xavier’s College.
Vahanvati, whose father was also a lawyer, was the first Muslim to become India’s Attorney General. He hailed from a Gujarati family involved in shipbuilding business, which was also the origin of the family name derived from ‘vahan’ or ship in Gujarati.
The lawyer was famous for his memory and legal acumen. He was known to be close to a top industrialist and several Congress politicians. Vahanvati had represented the Maharashtra State Electricity Board in its dispute with the American energy giant Enron related to the Dabhol power project in the late 1990s. Vahavati appeared on behalf of Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar in his legal cases against the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) from 2005 to 2008.
Vahanvati was suffering from a lung infection for some time and was admitted to a city hospital.