Pradeep Rai is the Senior Advocate and Vice President of Supreme Court Bar Association. Additionally Chairman of Inddia Legal Aid Centre and Chairman of Indian Legal Research Foundation.
He has been interviewed by Priyanshi Singh, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from Banaras Hindu University.
- Please share with our readers something about yourself and your journey in the profession.
Specifically, I was always motivated to become a lawyer. That is the one thing, but there was a time when I thought that I cannot earn for myself if I am doing practice because those days I told you that there was no environment of internship, no environment of paid part-time jobs, even people working with lawyers like Shanti Bhushan Ji were not getting Rs 500 a month. So unless you have some family background, it was almost impossible for you to actually make any money and take care of your livelihood. That was the problem. So I started doing journalism there. I was doing so well. I was anchoring a program for Doordarshan that is called “mantriji hazir hain” in which the politicians and top ministers used to come and we used to connect them over to the common man. Once I had a humble earning and a good name for myself, I thought that I should pursue my passion and at the same time I should also do something by which I can sustain in this profession of law which I joined finally in 1998.
- Please share your interests and motivations that helped you to navigate in your career path.
It is a difficult journey for anyone who comes from the first generation as they do not have any background, yet if you are consistent with your learning and patient with your exposures, this profession has much to offer than you think you can get. I too come from the first-generation family. I met in those days Venkatachaliah, J., whom I was assisting in National Human Rights Commission and J.S. Verma, J., who later became the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission who kept guiding me throughout. Later, I got famous clients including Amitabh Bachchanji. That further elated me to continue to work for better. Lastly, each day worked for me as a constant motivation.
It is a popular view that litigation throws numerous challenges in the initial stages; please share your insights and experiences regarding the same.
You see, patience and consistency are the buzzwords in this profession. Those days it was much harder to settle down in this profession, as there was no system of getting the internship so you hardly had opportunities to work under someone even for unpaid experiences. But today the students go for internships, some of them even land into pre-placement offers. So today, getting into this profession is not such a big deal, but what is lacking is dedicated people who really want to work. We too prefer some juniors and interns and even offer good stipends to those excelling.
Sir, please share your experience with us in your role of Chairman of India Legal Aid Centre.
Back then, providing legal aid assistance was tough with least faculties around, now that we receive good funds, be it governmental or private, digital technology to keep proper records and more. We often witnessed in many cases that some of the convicts had already completed their sentence, before their appeal could be heard in time, so they continued to serve more than what was prescribed. Some of them were not able to pay their securities for their bail, so they had to remain in the cells. All this as well, comes under injustice. Therefore, we are very active providing all kind of help, like helping a poor man with the means to pay court’s fees, advocates’ fees and the incidental cost of litigation. We have our entire team that has offered pro bono services to the vulnerable sections. So that is how we are trying to do something. Even in our Supreme Court Bar we have decided that we will provide all the support to the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and other State Legal Services Authority (SALSAs) in all the matters in which pro bono appearances are required. We have offered our services so far to around 900 applications with the help of the top senior lawyers to the junior lawyers for these pro bono services.
What are your views on the concept “exhaustion of a search”?
Searching is not the end of research, one must also verify the sources from which such information has been obtained. Only then would research be exhausted. It was this infamous case of fodder scam, that I was handling. And during my research, I realised that the disproportionate assets charges were way less than the case which essentially ran into several crores. Then after an in-depth research and authentication of my sources, I realised that there was no declaration of education fees before the Income Tax Department on part of the minister. Henceforth such low DA charges were made out. Research and research as long as you are not satisfied with the answers of all your curious questions. So you see, as a professional this entire concept is an asset for you.
Please share your experience as Vice Chairman in National Anti-Doping Agency under the Ministry of Youth Affairs?
Indeed, that experience of mine, had made me realise that what is the plight of these sportspersons. There used to be cases where sportsmen have actually consumed certain medicines for their fever or joint pains, out of their lack of knowledge but their case fell in the ambit of doping with their urine samples being tested positive. Additionally, apart from the requirement of sports equipments, they know hardly any of their rights. So we worked for them as well. Also, in our country it is a big problem that we hardly have sports doctors and experts. There are only one or two sports injury centers. There are very few doctors who are experts that what kind of medicine should be prescribed that players do not fall in the ambit of doping. So efforts, need to be made in this context as well.
So how far do you think that improvement in a specific sports law in India can help in improving the current position of sports and its players?
Even after the constant support from the government bodies and motivation from the people, the Sports Industry in India is still not much of a success. Moreover, it is getting plagued by comments on many wrong incidents that are taking place in the sporting world. There is news regarding bidding scandals, corruption in sports, betting, pre-fixing matches, and worse – sexual harassment of the women players. It is agreeable that the competition is indeed high in sports today and by adopting corrupt and illegal practices, many events can be won. However, it is important to note that India established associations for sports on the foundation of ethics and the pure talent of the sportspersons. It does not believe in stooping down to illegal forms just to win and gain popularity. There are labour issues where the players have to negotiate their working hours, wages, and training conditions on their own because their agents are not doing their duties well. Then, there is a bigger problem of drug usage. Although many measures are taken to prevent the players from consuming performance-enhancing drugs, they manage to figure out a way to use them. Not only is it illegal but it also poses a threat to the health of the player. Also, there is a need to check the accountability and actions of all government bodies and agencies involved with managing sports. For all these purposes, legislation has to be introduced and implemented strictly including penalties and jail terms for illegal and corrupt actions. This is the only possible way to control the situation and once again play clean sports.
How do you think that the pandemic has affected the working of law and what challenges are, currently, being faced by the judiciary?
See I am a non-believer in pandemic as far as my professional life is concerned. I still believe that this pandemic is a man-made problem. Yes, I agree on the point that the pandemic has affected our tendencies and propensities to do things the way we used to do. As far as judiciary is concerned, pre- or post-pandemic, there was always a need of updating to technology and infrastructure. All that said, what has happened is that we have resorted to these necessities in a dire state when we were least prepared, but kudos to our ecosystem, we adapted to it as well, though not perfectly but say adequately.
Sir, how has your role as the current Vice President of Supreme Court Bar Association influenced your life at personal level ?
In my current position, I have been able to associate with things and people beyond professional levels. I am still learning law in its all-encompassing form. Apart from conducting seminars and talks on legal topics by eminent jurists and publish journals and papers of legal interest and organising legal aid to the poor, I have realised that there are so many other things, that need to be worked upon, for example, helping out our juniors facing tough time in the pandemic, requirement of space and infrastructure for housing and offices and more. My day-to-day meetings tell me that one needs to work smartly and consistently and one day you will reach your pinnacle of your dreams.
What advice would you like to give students of law in a post-COVID era where students are anxious about choosing career paths?
Yes, if you believe in yourself, you are going to achieve whatever you want. You take it from me that if a person like me can do such things, anybody can do it because when I was studying up to class eight we did not have even access of any school building. We had studied under a tree. So if I can do this, anybody can do this and I believe in it and many of these young lawyers are so competent. Moreover they are equipped with the access to SCC Online and Westlaw. They have different kind of scholarship, different kind of training programs, different kind of opportunities, all they have to do is exploit these resources.