Legal Luminaries


“Many of my uncles were lawyers and were receiving a lot of respect and attention. They were also leading a more affluent life than many others in the village. I thought that it is a very prestigious profession and decided to become a lawyer.”

“He does not argue, he teaches us,” this is what Justice V.S. Sirpurkar had to say about Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, Pavani Parameswara Rao. Rao is an outstanding and dynamic advocate uniformly respected by the Bench and the Bar, not only in the Supreme Court but also in the legal fraternity in India and abroad.

With landmark cases like Babri Masjid demolition and 2G spectrum in his kitty, Rao is considered as the constitutional law expert and even judges cannot ignore his interpretations. Hailing from a small village called Mogalicherla in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, Rao wanted to pursue law since his childhood days. “Many of my uncles were lawyers and were receiving a lot of respect and attention. They were also leading a more affluent life than many others in the village. I thought that it is a very prestigious profession and decided to become a lawyer,” recalls Rao. After completing his graduation, Rao had to take up teaching for a year before going further to study law.

Recollecting childhood memories, Rao says that he had an enjoyable time with brothers and sisters. Today also, he makes sure that he visits his village at least once a year. Settling back in the village is not what Rao thinks about, for which he says, “if I want to go back to the village then it would be only for the family. Many of the family members are not alive and now my life is with my grandchildren.”

Rao wanted to study law in Madras University but destiny took him to Osmania University in the late 1950s, where he pursued his LL.B. and LL.M. and worked part-time as an assistant in the central storage department of the university. This part-time work led Rao to meet his life partner. “We both were working in the central storage department and started talking on subject matters. Then, I shifted to the state department and we both started missing each other. One day I got a surprise call from her and cupid did his job.” Says Rao with nostalgia.

Mrs. Rao is a Parsi by religion and hence, they had to face resistance from both the families. Rao, being the apple of his mother’s eye, convinced the family. “I told my mother that if you don’t want it then I will not marry her but then I will not marry anyone else,” said Rao.

Mrs. Rao’s family still did not approve the relation and the marriage was performed without the consent of the bride’s family. Highly secular in belief, Mr. and Mrs. Rao tied the knot in a vineyard on Christmas (December 25, 1959).

Soon after, they had their first and only child. In 1960, Rao got a job offer to teach law in the Law Faculty of Delhi University. Rao had to come to Delhi without his wife and child due to financial restrictions. Soon the world turned around, and Mrs. Rao’s family accepted the marriage and took care of them till both Mrs. Rao and the son came to Delhi. Recalling a funny incident, Rao tells that when his mother-in-law saw the baby she heaved a sigh of relief, more so because the child did not borrow Rao’s complexion and was fair in colour. “Parsis are very conscious about complexion. It was, perhaps, one of the reasons why the family did not accept me initially,” says Rao laughingly.

It is astounding that Rao, whose charges per appearance are in lakhs now, started working for a monthly salary of `400. After teaching in Delhi University for six years, Rao got his big break from the eminent jurist N.C. Chatterjee, who needed someone for research work. One day, N.C. Chatterjee sent his car for Rao and then there was no looking back for him. Rao started practicing in the Supreme Court and became an Advocate – on-Record in 1969.

Rao has high regard for his wife and believes that she has been the centre of strength all through his life and continues to be so. He also says that all the moral values that he has gained are a gift of Mrs. Rao to him.

In 1992, during the President’s rule after the Babri Masjid demolition, when all the eminent lawyers were representing the opposition parties, Rao defended the proclamations representing the states of Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Rao conceived, developed and presented the argument based on secularism and convinced the Court that all the four BJP Governments had violated the basic feature of secularism.

Coming to his hobbies, Rao loves travelling the most and spends time reading English literature. Being a nature lover, he prefers to visit hill stations whenever he finds time. In India, Ooty is his favourite place and Switzerland aborad. Rao also has fond memories from his visits to Rome, Vienna, Brussels and the United States. Though well-travelled, Rao is not fond of foreign travel as he believes that the style of living outside is very different, which makes him feel uncomfortable. If time allows, Rao would love to visit Darjeeling with his family.

Rao loves to read Shakespearean plays, MacBeth being his favourite. He also loves to read the works of R.K. Narayan, K.P.S. Menon, Raja Rao, and the likes. Rao spends time reading biographies and travelogues during his free hours. The 80-year-old humanist lets down age with regular workout, swimming being his favourite. Rao spends around 45 minutes swimming every day.

Rao has participated in several seminars and conferences including the SAARC Law conferences, International Bar Association, Law Asia and conferences of Commonwealth Law Association. He led the Indian delegation of lawyers to the Soviet Union (1983) and was a member of the official delegation of lawyers to China led by the Attorney General (1990). In 2006, Rao was honoured with the Padma Bhushan by the then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and also received the Andhra Kesri Seva Parivar, Andhra Pradesh.

With a warm smile, Rao is still a child at heart and misses his mother the most. “Value time because there is nothing as precious a thing as time, it will never come back to you.” This is one piece of advice Rao gives to everyone he comes across.

We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001.

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